In that crucial net of values

GUESTXCOLUMN. . . In my opinion, the first and most important goal [of education] should be that no child leaves primary school in 2013 unable to read, write and comprehend at the age appropriate level. We have five years to achieve this first goal.

–– Letter to the Editor of February, 2008.

. . . Sixth form education may be good and necessary but we have to say that we must have a sound foundation [first] . . . .

–– Letter to the Editor of January 28, 2013.

Has anything changed since 2008 or 2013? Oh, yes, many more things have impacted negatively on our educational system. Who or what has caused us to escape from the net of core values which we held in relation to education?

I shall point (softly) to what I believe to be some accelerators of change. The points shall not form a comprehensive overview but rather declare where shafts of light are or may be needed, or in fact be already seen.

Yes, we do have a few teachers in the system who may be exemplifying similar behaviours which may have been directed at them whilst at school, or indeed at home. We also do have teachers who slip through the net of punctuality and are never on time. In response to infractions what is the management of the school doing? Management consists of teaching and some ancillary staff, senior teachers, deputy head and head. Problems, where they exist between student and teacher, should not be allowed to fester in a strong management environment.

In days of yore, one might be somewhat assured every teacher was a teacher of English. Indeed, most could get by in another subject other than their core or be able to use a topical or even historical activity to stimulate the children. Is that still the case today?

On the one hand, teachers are easy targets, especially for some politicians, since the votes they represent are few when expressed against the families of students. On the other hand, one must ask: to what extent are teachers taught, and do practise, how to address the behaviours of the student and not diminish the individual student’s persona or indeed that of any other person?

By and large, teachers are doing an excellent job where very often the plant, supplies and support all suffer for a lack of the necessities. What may continue to help the process of interaction –– teacher/student –– is a series of carefully crafted workshops in which teachers use actual incidents and role play solutions under the skilful guidance of a small and appropriate panel.

They should even practise word games to help give greater language facility and also to help secure that important “net of values”.

Oh, my goodness! What an environment we do live in. Take the so-called ZR/minibus culture. Oh, how we beat up on the drivers and even the owners! But to whom are the drivers responding?

They respond to the commuters who require them to stop anywhere to set down or pick up. And you may have noticed that the potential passengers seem to be walking ever more slowly.

Again, the “powers that be” find easy targets in the drivers and owners; again, the share of votes, no matter that one route can have over a hundred licensed PSVs. We all, including the young, see at first-hand indiscipline extraordinaire from all, indeed, starting with those who issue the licences.

The child may also be brainwashed from an early age by violent video cartoons and a society no longer protective of the distinction of expressions and language in movies –– with ratings. We now have YouTube, WhatsApp, and so on. What’s shown on these and other sites can really be a mind-and-body, corrupting free-for-all. Access on cellphone, tablet or computer –– easy.

Added to the visual and auditory impacts from outside the home, the child may also be exposed to problems within. These impacts may be dietary, money, interpersonal relationships, illnesses and sheer violence, amongst others. In times past, an extended family member or other caregiver might have been able to assist in bringing up the child, but less so now. The net of values has been substantially shredded.

The child, while already burdened by one or more of the impacts noted above, is also at the juncture when hormones come riding in at first or second form level in secondary school, and sometimes even before, at primary level. Hormones may cause the child to feel the junior shackle must be cast off and the mantle of adulthood put on.

The mix of negative impacts and necessary hormonal influence can sometimes produce a cauldron of excesses. Oh, the poor teacher in classes of 30 or more, to say nothing of a single guidance counsellor to the school of over 1,000. Get the message? What net, what values?

Teachers don’t have time to deal with the confluence of those strong forces, as well as hoping to get through an impossibly long curriculum during teaching times, now ever more shortened by increasing subjects.

Can the students really learn when either teacher-directed or self-directed? If left to being self-directed by the prescription of “the electronic tablet” –– take one and you will learn about all things –– the student without adequate home-study space or enabling environment may simply imbibe trivia from “the tablet”. What then?

In accounting, net is the final figure after you have taken expenses off. But how does one net out the value of education? What is it within the learning process we want to enhance –– sometimes called values –– whilst removing or discarding the expenses of negativity, as it were? Ideally one never stops learning, so primary, secondary or tertiary level schooling each should prepare us to enter that vast world of continuous learning and also doing.

How can we successfully begin to consider the process of “netting out” if we have never had the correct value input from the start? In a very few kindergarten and primary schools are students’ progress or pain(s) monitored and results recorded. And, indeed, even if there is a record at primary level, that file is hardly ever carried forward to the secondary level.

What I am suggesting should not be viewed as “a dossier of the doomed”, but a guide to help teachers understand why the child may fit into one niche and not the other. In other words, one child may learn better by actually using hands, another by reading, and still another by hearing, and so on. What a challenge for the teachers!

It means that portions of the curriculum may have to be fractionated; in other words, not all is either “chalk and talk” or “fingers on the tablet”, but still another method.

Here’s a thought, teacher: peer discovery. Make sure to say that it is “without judgement”, when you ask the student(s) to explain a concept. You may discover, especially from today’s children, remarkable results that indeed may differ from yours, even from the “slow learner(s)”. Try it.

What a lift of self-esteem as we listen to them (and learn) without judgement!

One can build on such “sharing” as an example of how communities can share, and what it means to be concerned about your neighbour’s welfare.

There are many other values. Some, if not most, for instance, are variously exemplified by our National Heroes. There is honesty: a cricketer walking without waiting for the umpire; or persistence in the early days of organizing workers, even though being often chased by “overseers” on horseback.

Using the many values demonstrated by our Heroes, which can be discovered by research. These can be woven into the tapestry of teaching all subjects.

Indeed the net of values is strengthened when the students begin to discover, in their own neighbourhood, people who display one or many of the values talked about at school. Who knows? Maybe also in a parent or guardian.

Teaching/learning can be positively exciting. Let us cast the net in a different way to “catch” the values.

(Michael Rudder, a former broadcaster, is a regular letter writer and social commentator.)

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