Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Dooming students to fail

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMMark Malabver

I am still yet to hear from the Ministry of Education (MOE) any clear-cut stance as to what is the educational philosophy or philosophies that have guided its policies. The MOE has adopted the slogan 'Every child can learn, every child must learn'. But that slogan seems more rooted in Gardner's psychological theory of multiple intelligence rather than an education philosophy.

In order to bring about change, a revolution is sometimes needed. Whichever educational philosophy we have, or will adopt, must take into consideration our history as a people, our current social, political and economic realities as a society, and the future we want as a country.

The fact is that our education system was inherited from our colonial masters. Many will agree with me that prior to independence, our education model was designed to create a society that was subservient to the interests of our colonisers. Unfortunately, we have merely accepted that model.

Many of the improvements made to the current model have been essentially designed to perpetuate an education system that has not taken into consideration our historic and current realities. The education system has essentially failed us as a society. In many respects, we have merely tried to apply superficial solutions to the myriad of problems within our system.

The current education system is both classist and elitist in its orientation. We have a two-tiered education system. Depending on what side you fall on, you are either likely to fail or succeed. The system has served to marginalise those persons who fall at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum. The students who benefit most from our education system are those whose parents are able to afford to send them to extra classes and preparatory schools. These are the students who tend to get, on average, the higher marks in GSAT.

It is widely accepted that students who attend preparatory schools tend to do much better in GSAT than those who attend primary schools. They are the ones who will go on to the more 'prominent' high schools and are, in most cases, three times more likely to go on to get a tertiary education.

Those who get the lower grades in GSAT are carted off to the so-called upgraded high schools. A huge percentage of these upgraded high schools are located in inner-city communities. Many of them are not equipped to effectively deal with the challenges these students come with, including learning, social, psychological, behavioural, and economic challenges. More than 80 per cent of these students do not go on to obtain a tertiary education.

So pronounced is the stigma of failure of upgraded high schools in the society that it impacts on the self-esteem of many students. One just needs to observe how students, teachers and parents react when it is discovered that a child is assigned to an 'upgraded' high school.

The harsh reality is that there is no equity or homogeneity in our education system. Whether we realise it or not, the system is designed to ensure the failure of those persons who are at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum. Those persons who succeed in the system, despite their socio-economic realities, are exceptions rather than the rule.

We also need to take a serious look at standardised testing in this country and evaluate what purpose it really serves within or education system. Does learning really take place in our education system or do we simply drill our students to pass examinations? Should we be facilitating a culture of competition for places when the disparity in preparation is so significant, especially at the GSAT level? The level of pressure we put on our children to perform in GSAT borders on child abuse.

We also need to take a very serious look at teacher recruitment, training and the extent to which we promote and facilitate a culture of professional development. The fact is that many persons become part of the teaching profession simply because it was something to do to pay the bills, and not because of any passion that they have to educate children. There are also those who come to the education system with the passion, but lose it after becoming frustrated by the inherent problems in the system.

We should ensure that persons who enter our teachers' colleges are among the best the country has to offer. This can only be made possible if we elevate the status and prestige of teachers in the country.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the Finland model referenced in my column published February 25. We need to rethink and reset our mindset about the business of education in this country. May I suggest that the discourse begin with an examination of what philosophy or philosophies of education we should adopt.

- Mark Malabver is head of the Social Science Department at Charlie Smith High, the academic staff representative to the board, and chairman of the Inner-City Teachers' Coalition. Email feedback to and