By Keith Noel
WE CAN no longer continue to just blame teachers, parents, social conditions, principals, for the fact that so many of our students seem uninterested, disaffected and bored while in school. We also have to search for reasons why so many students begin school eagerly and with positive attitudes and yet achieve at unsatisfactory levels. At the same time, we have to try to discover why many teachers, although fairly well 'trained' and well-intentioned are not reaping what we consider to be 'success' in the classroom.
It may be that everything:what we are teaching, how we are teaching, what we demand from our teachers and our schools in general, needs to be re-examined.
In departments and schools of education in our Caribbean universities and colleges, student teachers are exposed to a subject, the philosophy of education. Students read about interesting theories of knowledge and other philosophical topics, write exams on them and then go out to teach - in a system that largely ignores the basic principles that underlie what they have read in these courses.
There is no generally agreed set of ideas about what should be the 'foundation' on which our education system should be built. Some of the ideas that are put forward have been around from when my father was a school headmaster. These ideas sometimes clash fiercely with those that underpin much of the curricula that presently come out of the ministry. Many of the new methods and approaches that our teachers are asked to use, come out of recent education research in the United States and Europe. This new methodology is rooted in what is called 'postmodern' thought or philosophy. This philosophy emerged as a reaction to the weaknesses in what was then 'modern' philosophy.
Much of this new thinking fitted well into our schools as it helped to solve problems that were inherent in how we operated in school and what was being taught before. It gave us scope to emancipate ourselves from some of the ills of the system that we had inherited from Europe and had 'tweaked' to suit ourselves.
FRAUGHT WITH PROBLEMS
But this new thinking is itself fraught with problems. And the situation in which we now find ourselves is one in which we are retrofitting our system to incorporate an educational philosophy which is now being heavily challenged in the very place it originated.
Interestingly, the minister's call for inclusion of the study of Marcus Garvey (as opposed to study 'about' Garvey) may be the germ of the only real solution to our problem. Our society has to be asked to join in a discourse - about ourselves, our children and the society we wish to build. We have to think about what we want for ourselves. Marcus Garvey has given us a documented philosophy to use as a starting point. The Rastafari Movement has also given us some important 'imponderables' to consider. There is also much in our folk wisdom and our ancestral culture that is worth mulling over.
When we know ourselves and respect our disparate views, we may more easily develop methodologies for teaching that will excite most of our students. We may create curricula that treat 'alternative lifestyles' without causing a hullabaloo. Students of differing abilities and learning styles will be more easily accommodated.
Then we should consider the 'practical' aspects of education. At present, too many of us see school as a place where one goes to 'get subjects'. We must be able to develop a system which is not so haphazard that, each year, hundreds of university graduates cannot find employment in their area of expertise and thousands of high school graduates, armed with Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate 'subjects' sit idly at home while employers complain about not being able to find suitable personnel.
We might even be able to produce young persons whose aim is not to 'get a work', but whose aim is to be productive. So they are ready to fill a need: as employees in an area in which they enjoy and are needed, or as self-employed artisans, or entrepreneurs. These youngsters' education would have geared them to fit smoothly into society - and it would have spent much effort in developing their self esteem and their respect for others and for their country.
Because every child can, every child must, grow into a self-fulfilled individual.
Keith Noel is an educator. Send comments to columns@gleaner jm.com