Are we there yet?

My first job was as a teacher at the secondary level. Indeed all my life I have been learning and teaching. A teacher will probably encounter a cross-section of societal positives and negatives and the range in between in any given classroom. It takes some time to discover which child or indeed which adult, depending on the class being taught, exhibits or is influenced by an aspect of society.

Now a teacher may take days, weeks or perhaps a term or more to discover, not only what influences may be a determinant in the behaviour of the student but also what stimulates or encourages the positive and reverses the negative, broadly speaking. And remember this analysis may have to be undertaken in each class taught.

Of course teachers discuss student behaviours and each different subject teacher of a particular form may agree that student “A” or student “B” copes or does not.

What we are now going to have at Alexandra — time of writing Sunday, January 6 at 8:30 p.m. — is a new group of teachers at a critical juncture of the school year having no knowledge of and little if any reference concerning student “A” or student “B” probably in every class room.

It takes time to learn the names of students. It will take time to discover if the previous “ma’am” or “sir” really allowed certain behaviours and indeed if “I”, the new teacher, will want to change what may have been a fact or is the student trying to pull a fast one with the help of some friends. Getting to know each other, good order and discipline will probably take a week or two to sort out especially in the Alexandra situation where some level of what may be called “student anarchy” appears to have been in evidence.

This is the term when there is disruption due to school sports and other events. In the schools, teachers have no doubt developed coping arrangements which allow for make-good teaching and learning. Synchronisation between and among teachers would probably have been developed over the years in all the schools affected by this mass migration of teachers. New teachers will now stumble into situations where the modi operandi, in respect of make-good practices, are unknown.

As a supporter of trade union rights and responsibilities my first reaction on reading of the transfers from Alexandra to sundry other destinations was — “union busting”. We are always reminded that first impressions count. Indeed it may not have been the intention but the result may be as devastating. In addition, there are now many households struggling to come to terms with new, and in some cases difficult transportation arrangements for adults and children. This is not the Ministry of Education’s finest hour. Some may say common sense has withered on the education vine. Indeed despite checks and balances, understandings, laws and regulations within the education system and agreed by successive governments neither political party can come out smelling like a rose when it comes to Alexandra School. Yet there has to be a change when we really put people first and not only say so as ‘a first off the mark propaganda ploy.’

So with another considerable stumble or fumble I am forced to ask vis-?†-vis the date for a general election: “Are we there yet?”

Broader Aspects

As far back as 1997 a document, The Education of Young People – A statement at the dawn of the 21st century was presented by the chief executive officers of five of the world’s largest non-formal education organisations with the active support of the CEO of the International Award Association. Those organisations were YMCA, YWCA, World Organisation of the Scout Movement, World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

The report noted, inter alia: “In its broadest sense, education is a lifelong process which enables the continuous development of a person’s capabilities as an individual and a member of society. The purpose of education is to contribute to the full development of an autonomous, supportive, responsible and committed person.”

A variety of educational agents make a contribution to the full personal and social development of an individual. The UNESCO definition, generally accepted, shows three distinct types:

(1) Formal education is the hierarchically structured, chronologically graded, educational system running from primary through to tertiary institutions.

(2) Informal education is the process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience, such as from family, friends, peer groups, the media and other influences and factors in the person’s employment.

(3) Non-formal education is organised educational activity outside the established formal system that is intended to serve an identifiable learning clientele with identifiable learning objectives.

The statement also sets out the special characteristics which define organisations providing non-formal education and strongly encourages all those who will shape educational policies for young people in the next millennium (their emphasis) to accept that non-formal education is an essential part of the educational process and to recognise the contribution that can be made by non-formal education organisations. In particular they are urged to:

* Seek dialogue with the non-formal educational organizations.

* Support and utilise the skills, resources and experience of non-formal youth educational organisations.

* Strengthen partnerships between formal, informal and non-formal education in order to create policies that meet the educational needs of young people…”

It is noted that a number of teachers at various schools are involved in this critical non-formal aspect of education. I know what it can mean to young people since I started a scout troop at the school I eventually taught at even before I left school myself. It was quite a wrench for me when I left teaching to take up a job in broadcasting, which required changing shift hours every week. I know the boys in the troop suffered as well. Thus I am well aware of what teachers, who are leaving their own non-formal education duties, are going through.

Hopefully, in a few years when I or someone else asks if we are there yet when it comes to a holistic approach to education accessing the formal, informal and non-formal we can say: “Yes, we are there.”

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