Letter of the Day | Time to re-examine teaching and learning processes
THE EDITOR, Madam:
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the issue of school attendance, specifically in relation to students’ premature divergence into the world of work. While this occurrence might be news to some Jamaicans, to administrators of under-resourced, non-traditional high schools with struggling learners, this is not a novel phenomenon. The pervasiveness of this practice is what has likely been heightened during the period of this pandemic. While many factors may be causal to this occurrence, one factor that must not be ignored is that of students’ frustration with school and schooling.
With schools’ performance tied to students’ performance on external examinations rather than on ‘value-added’, our schools appear to be more concerned with delivering the curriculum’s content rather than with ‘attending to’ and ‘intervening’. Due to this, year over year, many students fall further and further behind while being progressed to higher and higher grades.
For students lacking the prerequisite skills to engage with grade-level content, schooling is less of a joy and more of a discomfort. As an educator, I have heard this argument, and I have seen its manifestation. While I do not support student absenteeism, who faces severe discomfort without seeking respite? Who finds pleasure in lingering in repeated failures and unmet needs?
In struggling students’ minds, perhaps, it presents as being more sensible to gravitate to a system that aligns with their perceived capabilities and provides rewards that validate the worth and value of their engagement. Where we feel a sense of belonging, we are more likely to stay. Perhaps it is high time that we re-examine our philosophy on teaching and learning, schools’ role in providing education, and the Ministry of Education’s role in supporting the process.
What should education look like for grades 10 and 11 students who cannot read, write or perform mathematical calculation at a functional level? There should be a clear and widely disseminated policy direction on this. As it now exists, teachers of grades 10 and 11 students who are attempting to remediate rather than spew curricular content, are accused of ‘dumbing down’ students. A clear policy direction would spare teachers and school administrators the anxiety of feeling unproductive for supporting remediation at the expense of delivering a curriculum that exceeds students’ capability. An instructional pattern that prioritises struggling learners’ needs, experiences, and feelings will better position them for success. Such a design will also furnish learners with the motivation they need to engage with, and persist with, academic learning.
While I acknowledge and express appreciation for the coaching programmes extended to secondary school, the Government must action an independent audit to establish the extent to which these initiatives are impacting our most academically needy students.