Edu-fusion or confusion? –– Part 1

guestcol-rudder-1. . . The new education is ADHD. 

It’s a method of teaching that surrenders ground on each key concept, deserting it before it’s firmly fixed in the mind of the student.

It hops around from idea to idea, because parents, teachers, administrators, students, departments of education, and educational publishers have given up on the traditional practice of repetition.

Repetition was old-world. For decades, even centuries, the time-honoured method of instruction was: introduce an idea or concept or method, and then provide numerous examples the student had to practise, solve, and demonstrate with proficiency . . . .

–– Jon Rappoport in Waking Times.

It is my understanding that in some of our edu-factories/schools a concept may be given with a single reference, and if you don’t get it, “tough cookies”.

But you know that procedure is not new to some schools. Looking back to my days of the study of “organic chemistry”, our teacher –– let’s call him Fanny –– who my mother told me was my godfather, would regale us with “A is to B as C is to D”, or some such. I did not know what it meant then and still do not know now.

I describe our system today as edu-factories simply because the product is expected to be homogenous. What a hoot! Homogenous? Similar? Similar to what, who, when, where? Students are leaving school with results starting at zero certificates. In this, I guess one school may be similar to another.

I suspect, however, that many education officials and teachers cannot properly tell us what is the purpose of today’s education? This is so because we start with confusion. Students are constantly being reminded, for instance, that they have to be “employable”. At the same time, students are being constantly encouraged to develop entrepreneurial skills for self-employment, no less.

Students are learning less and less about more and more. Is this what we want? Or, do we want our students to know more and more about subjects that interest them?

Some may argue that the two proposals –– employment and self-employment –– are not antithetical. I would posit that a creative mind does not always need to “show the working”, even as today’s Common Entrance students are reminded to.

Indeed, I wonder if the founders of the Amway Corporation, Microsoft or Facebook  and, for instance, of our own Solar Dynamics, Branker’s or Williams Group got stuck with the “working”. What we need more of is the “doing”; not showing.

Looking back again, it should be noted that a high number of graduates from the Barbados Academy became entrepreneurs. Of course, they might have been taught the concepts of bookkeeping. Today, all that may be required is an understanding of a programme such as QuickBooks. Concepts be hanged; it works.

In fact, does one need to understand concepts of this topic?  I believe one at least needs to understand profit and loss.

A key strategy in promoting the move towards entrepreneurship has to be the inculcation of the habit of learning. All students should be aware that secondary school is not the end of learning, although I believe that many do see the last day of school as “that takes care of that”. In fact, adult learning should and must be encouraged. School-leavers should be the inheritors of a thirst for learning.

That “will” should have been drawn up whilst the learners were at school.

It is, unfortunately, too well known that some students, as teachers explain, don’t want to learn/study. We must then ask ourselves: “To what extent can we implement the concept Management By Exception in order to reach those students?”

“Impossible” is likely to be the retort.

“We struggle to get through the curriculum now with so many days lost to various activities. We cannot create exceptions in the classroom.”

Really? Are we not creating exceptions when we focus on those that “get it first time”? Might it be possible, however, to give an opportunity to the don’t-want-to-learn persons to tell the rest of the class some of the good things in which they are interested. Get them to learn more and to share more; they might discover learning can be worthwhile.

In fact that methodology is somewhat akin to what is required at the adult level . . . .

Indeed, adult learning opportunities must be presented in ways that interest and welcome learners in all aspects of individual and collective life, especially by taking advantage of their life experience . . . . Adult learning opportunities must be judged by the extent to which they open new possibilities for action and further learning, and enrich different aspects of the life of the learner . . . .

–– UNESCO Conference On Adult Learning, Hamburg.

To encourage the reluctant student, he/she might be given a note from the teacher to the parent/guardian –– it could be a form letter with the appropriate spaces to be filled in. In it would be spelled out the student’s area of interest, the teacher’s approval of the plan of action, and a suggestion that the student and parent find someone in their community who is willing to help in the research of the topic.

This process has the advantage of indirectly bringing to the fore aspects of community, entrepreneurship/market research, as well as employability in the aspect of customer relations as the student interacts with the advisor from the community. Who will bell the cat?

This learning/reaching out might be tried in the third and fourth forms with the hope that by the fifth form the attitude of the “don’t-want-to-learn” person will have a new outlook on the need for learning. Or maybe it might even be better to start in the second form with a modified version.

What is missing now is the parent from the PTA meetings. Just as businesses give time off for attendance at funerals, they should give similarly for attendance to form level or PTA meetings.

. . . Only those who can see the invisible, can accomplish the impossible . . . .

–– Anonymous

So how do we accelerate change in a resistant environment? Some will argue it is not that those involved in the education who are resistant to change, but that change is too often seen as adding more and still more to the curriculum, which does not solve the problem, but exacerbates it.

Indeed, a child’s difficulty may not have anything to do with the school at all, but may be because of a domestic situation. I recall an incident of so-called “wandering” being brought to the attention of the school board of which I was a member. The child had been picked up by the police, but the reason why the child was on the road late at night was because the mother was “entertaining” a male companion and the child was put on the outside. I suspect still not an unusual situation.

On another occasion I was facilitating during a teacher training seminar. At a break, two teachers from a primary school confessed that they were looking forward to being relieved of three difficult students who would be going on the secondary school after the Common Entrance Exam. Multiply those problems by the number of primary schools and we get an idea of the numbers with unsolved issues moving on to secondary level.

If we are to meet the human challenges that schools present, we have to begin to see the “invisible”. These are the problems in the home and/or community from which the children come. We need to tackle the human needs early
in the child’s school life.

I suggest that one way we might accomplish what may now be seen as “impossible” is to appoint a community liaison officer in each primary school. That properly trained person’s job would be to visit the home/community of the “problem child”, analyse and either deal with the situation or refer the matter to the competent authority, through the principal.

In all, we need to embrace an understanding posited in the book The Theory Of Re-Evaluation Counselling by Harvey Jackins. He declares that we are all born with vast amounts of flexible intelligence. He says: “First, we are enormously intelligent. We have a large capacity to respond to the environment continuously in new, precisely successful ways . . . .”

We know that education is a lifelong process that 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.

I believe that the most significant portion of our education must be shared at nursery and primary level. In my opinion, the first and most important goal should be that no child leaves primary school unable to read, write and comprehend at the age-appropriate level.

In addition, to reach this point it means that primary schools must stop focusing on getting a high number of Common Entrance passes as a measure of their success. This may mean training and retraining of nursery and primary school teachers and principals.

Further, open plan classrooms are no longer acceptable. Students have enough distractions outside the classroom; they do not need them all day long in the classroom. Every class in the nursery and primary schools should, within the next two years, occupy a discrete space. Thus, the lifelong process must be given a head start to full individual development where not only space and formal education, but also informal and non-formal education are equally important.

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 organized educational activity outside the established formal system that is intended to serve an identifiable learning clientele with identifiable learning objectives –– Scouts, Guides, Cadets, Red Cross, YMCA and YWCA, and so on . . . .

There is no quick fix for our education dilemma. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the statement by Brazilian educator and philosopher Paolo Freire: “Teaching [facilitating] does not mean transferring knowledge but creating opportunities for . . . producing and constructing it.”

(Michael Rudder, a former broadcaster, is a social commentator.)

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