Mark Nicely, GUEST COLUMNIST
It is important to note that the education system is not like the average roadway which, after years of being in a state of disrepair, can be fixed in a matter of weeks or months. For every year that the education system is left to decay, it will take approximately two years to repair.
One does not have to engage oneself in detailed research in order to arrive at the painful conclusion that our education system is failing. It is for that reason why the Ministry of Education is embarking on a transformation of the education system. Many Jamaicans are unemployable and scores of students leave school barely literate.
What, then, are we doing wrong, and what changes are necessary to foster improvement? First, we must recognise and acknowledge that students are neither computers nor banks. The practice of lumping information and depositing it into students' heads must stop. Teachers are not almighty educators who know it all. This kind of practice causes education to be a medium of oppression.
The experience of the average child will be one in which school is like a prison in which he or she comes to be gagged with an awful medicine called education, served by a wicked slave master called teacher.
Learning was never meant to be oppressive and enslaving. There is the need to move away from rote learning, which is meaningless. Such learning does not last. Much of what is taught in our Jamaican schools involves such learning. Our curricula and achievement tests only serve to support this kind of learning. As a consequence, learning has no personal benefit for students and does not cater to the whole person. Learning in that context occurs only in the head.
equal distribution of power
The alternative to this kind of education currently practised is one in which the learner is seen as a conscious human and is respected and valued. Consequently, there is an equal distribution of power in the classroom, fostering mutual respect and mutual benefit.
Too many of our children are exposed to varying degrees of verbal abuse by those who should be empowering and enlightening them. The kind of education I talk about is one which promotes freedom of the learner. Consequently, the potential for conflict is greatly minimised.
There is the need to promote the use of cognitive skills. If it is that the teacher knows it all, there is no need for students to think, consequently, many of our students are not thinking. There is the need for educators to, instead of treating children as objects, recognise that they are critical thinkers. There is the need for facilitators of learning to inculcate into our students the recognition that they can all achieve excellence.
The learning environment in Jamaica must be transformed from autocratic to democratic, and, instead of one voice echoed through the classroom, there needs to be the echoing of many voices, so that a community of learners is created in which silence is discouraged and participation becomes the order of the day.
The learners who form the majority need to be liberated and empowered to participate in, and help steer, their own learning experience. This awareness is the pivot to the kind of learning that will empower, inform and enlighten.
Learning ought to be a time of meaningful engagement, resulting in individuals managing their own lives, and making necessary and appropriate changes to enhance the quality of their own lives.
If we are to truly transform the education landscape, we must change the experience of the learner. In doing so, there is need for us not only to think outside of the box but also to act outside of the box. Learning under duress, under threat and in a less-than-favourable learning environment must soon be a thing of the past.
Finally, Jamaica's education landscape must be transformed to the extent that students are allowed to participate, ask questions, share ideas and make choices. Simultaneously, students will become empowered to critically think and act to improve their own lives.
As our nation moves to form a useful education system, it has to be a transformation of minds, of practices, and of beliefs. Otherwise, such a transformation will be no different from changes in the states of matter. And we may be fooled into thinking that we have made massive and significant changes, when all we have done is to change liquid into solid and place it in the sun for display.
Mark Nicely is president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association. Email feedback to email@example.com.