National education situation out of control?
– Clarence O. Perry
We cannot plant limes and hope to reap oranges!
The Guyana Review (SN 25-02-10) reports: “Violence in schools poses serious challenges to the fabric of the country’s education system. The authorities are yet to fashion a workable response.”
The report cites examples of violent incidents that have occurred at certain schools. Further, the report points out that school violence is not a problem peculiar to Guyana, it is also of great concern in other territories in the wider Caribbean region.
This ought not to surprise us, since Guyana has a colonial heritage similar to that of sister English speaking Caribbean territories. The report is also replete with the responses of various stakeholders.
Some of these responses are very pertinent observations: “Dependence upon rules as a mechanism for the maintenance of order and discipline ignores the real issues associated with school violence and other forms of delinquency…By talking about disciplinary codes and about applying rules without first understanding where the violence is coming from, we are really putting the cart before the horse.”
Two other responses point to the importance of appropriate learning environments. One of these calls our attention to the fact that we have become so occupied with curriculum development at the expense of human development. I am in total support of this observation. Indeed, there is tremendous merit in these observations.
Since the publication of the Guyana Review’s report, there have been other contributions in the printed press from various stakeholders towards the resolution of the issue of violence in schools.
Broadly speaking they are all well-meaning but limited in scope. For the most part, they do not deal with the factors that contribute to violence in schools.
To improve our chances of success in our search for the contributing factors and possible solutions to the problem of violence in our schools, we have to make sure that we really understand all aspects of the phenomenon we call violence.
Violence is a type or form of behaviour that violates or is an affront to the dignity of individuals. And, behaviour is defined as anything a person feels, says, or does. Scholars who have studied human behaviour, have concluded that the environments into which we are born and brought up, to a large extent determine our behaviour. Having said this, I will discuss the issue of violence in schools and what must be done to reduce this problem from a human development perspective.
The first environment for each one of us was in our mother’s womb. Whether our mother was a happy, well nourished individual, and enjoyed relatively good health, would have, to some degree, influenced our predisposition, our temperament and our innate potential.
It is an accepted fact that persons do not think without feeling, and that they usually think before they act. Very few actions are truly spontaneous. Almost all violent actions result from previous violent thoughts.
We can therefore, reasonably, conclude that: (1) physical violence is premeditated; and, (2) that there are two aspects of violence in schools: (a) the thinking or non-physical aspect that takes place before or precedes the violent act; and, (b) the violent act itself or the physical aspect.
Based upon the foregoing, the next logical step would be to turn our attention to the origin of violent thoughts, and the factors that contribute to their development. We will do well to keep in mind that “the absence of war is no sign of peace.”
Careful observation of play groups of infants or toddlers would reveal that some members of the observed groups are more aggressive than others. This sort of aggressive behaviour may even be observed among children of the same family (siblings).
By the time these “little diamonds in the rough” attain the age of five years and nine months, their parents are compelled by the laws of Guyana to place them in the care of the State (enroll them in school) which assumes responsibility for their “education.” The implication here is that the State would be legally and morally responsible for the development of each individual’s potential.
One of the aims of a quality education, is to discover and nurture the various innate (God given) potentials of the little “charges” placed in its care. After the discovery of these potentials, the education process ought to provide adequate opportunities for these various potentials to grow and develop.
In addition to the acquisition of knowledge and knowledge skills, opportunities for different forms of co-curricular (visual arts, applied arts, fine arts, physical education) and extra-curricular (field sports, clubs, youth organizations) should be provided on a regular basis.
We know that these opportunities rarely exist in our schools in Guyana. Most school buildings are not “purpose built” or designed to effectively deliver even the academic curriculum.
Further, the fact that there is little or no available land space surrounding the school buildings, means that the physical plants are totally inadequate to provide for the all-round or holistic development of individuals with varied potentials.
When we look at the following primary schools: Blankenberg, Comenius, Ketley Street, St. Ambrose, St. Andrews, St. Sidwells, Smith’s Church, just to name a few, it is evident that play, an essential aspect of child development, was never a consideration. This bears testimony to the fact that the aim of schooling as conceived by our colonial masters was not human development, but the control of the minds of former slaves – a concept which violates the individual and human dignity.
If we were to assume that the minimum requirement of an education system of any quality is, that it meets the needs of each student, then we must conclude that neither Guyana nor any of the other English speaking Caribbean territories has a “bona fide” education system. What we do have are school systems. I will acknowledge that there are some schools in the Caribbean that are Montessori in organization, and as such are better suited to meet the needs of individual students.
But, as we will discover, there are tremendous differences between an education system and a school system.
“It was good for me…See where I am today…All we need is more of the same…”
Schooling is a process in which knowledge (subjects/disciplines) instruction is delivered in a formal setting (classes, forms, grades). We must recognize that not all instruction is educational. In the vast majority of instances, and at all levels, instruction is mere social and cultural indoctrination, a process in which the attempt is made to force everyone into the same mould.
Most parents and teachers would know that the casualty rate in this process is exceedingly high – hence the high incidence of antisocial behaviour, truancy, dropout and, at times, even suicide. This process not only interferes with students’ learning, but, progressively kills their creativity and destroys their self-image.
Our process of schooling in the Caribbean was originally conceived by our colonial masters for the domestication of former slaves and for the production of servile citizens. In 1835, The Reverend J.Sterling discussed the urgent need for education amongst ex-slaves: “About 770,000 persons have been released from slavery by the Emancipation Act…The peace and prosperity of the Empire at large may not be remotely influenced by their moral condition…It is plain that something must be done; and it must be done immediately…For although the negroes are now under a system of limited control, which secures to a certain extent their orderly and industrious conduct, in the short space of five years from the first of next August, their performance of the functions of a labouring class in a civilized community will depend entirely upon the power over their minds…”
The above quote speaks for itself.
A few years later, in 1844 in America, Horace Mann, addressing himself primarily to business interests, made the argument for public schools as agents of social indoctrination and class stratification in straightforward terms: “Finally, in regard to those who posses the largest shares in the stock of worldly goods, could there, in your opinion, be any police as vigilant and effective for the protection of all rights of person, property and character, as such a sound and comprehensive education and training as our system of common schools could be made to impart…Would not the payment of a sufficient tax to make such training universal, be the cheapest means of self-protection and insurance?”
With the advent of the industrial revolution the school curriculum was expanded to produce more functionally literate workers, but knowledge and its distribution remained under the control of the elite.
Nevertheless, the paramount objective of schooling (social and cultural indoctrination) was and still is the production of the “good” citizen – the obedient, the docile, the servile; to maintain the class structure and the distinction between the servant and master.
“You are not to ask the reason why? You are but to do or die.” Indeed, you did not question, but, accepted everything as given, ordained by the elite – those of more gentle birth. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
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