A short while ago, local newspapers reported that the Honorable Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, had bravely gone, where no one, well politician, had gone before, she had announced a new model for education in Guyana. Not since Queen Victoria decreed (1876) that urchins and waifs, who were running amok in the streets, having been kicked out of the workplace and replaced by men, on the pretext that the new Industrial Revolution was too dangerous for them, had there been a change of the educational model. This model pervades all territories owned by the former British Empire,and others, and is still in existence today in most of them, even though the Empire has long since dissolved.
It must be mentioned that this is not a political statement, or a critique of Minister Manickchand’s Educational Plan. I have no political axe to grind, so to speak, and I haven’t fully read the Plan. My motive then, is to offer what I see as needed in order to radically change the educational system, for the good, fully cognizant of the fact that all, or some of my ideas, may have, to Minister Manickchand’s credit, been included in her Plan, and to admit to modest conceit, if any are there.
Let us take a brief look at the origins of our educational system. The Victorian model had all students sitting at desks, quietly listening to instructions from a teacher, usually a female, of impeccable virtue. On one wall of the classroom were a list of the Queens rules of etiquette (The name is lost to memory.), which I am told may still be hanging on some classroom walls! One such rule, which my grandmother told me was, ‘Quiet speech is a mark of refinement’. (If Queen Victoria was to hear school children’s conversation today, she may turn over in her grave.)
Students were only supposed to speak when spoken to, by the teacher, who was armed with a paddle or cane, in order to enforce her rules. As the school system grew, other forms of punishment developed, at least in Guyana, like for instance, kneeling for extended periods of time, with more creative teachers having their students kneel on scrubbing boards, and the more extreme, using coconut graters. Over time, progress has forced the abolishment of most disciplinary methods, but the ‘wild cane’ has doggedly persisted, up to today, with teachers and even parents, and even some children, swearing to its efficacy. Teachers who have not been taught many skills in discipline can only wreak revenge on students who dared disrupt their classes, or worse yet, fail their exams, by use of the Cane. And neither do parents, who have to deal with ‘hard ears’ children!
The Burnham Education Plan of 1976 attempted some educational modification, but the political system did not support it, as it also did in most socialist countries.
The Education Strategic Plan of 2008 -2013 (The Baksh Plan). (Note: Education Minister Baksh’s name is written as the author) is the last Plan before Minister Manickchand took office. This is the Plan whose results she had to look at and possibly think, ‘There has to be a better way’.
The Baksh Plan showed that there was a 20% average student dropout rate per year for those five years.
Twenty out of every 100 students felt that the school system was not meeting their educational needs, and walked!
That is not good.
It seems that most students wanted to be civil servants, nurses and doctors. Pride in work only applied to certain kinds of jobs. Unskilled and menial labor were to be frowned upon. Society encouraged this attitude. There is no unskilled labor. That is a ruse to get workers to work for peanuts . Menial is a term used by the former colonial masters in order to keep workers in their place, so to speak. It is most unfortunate that leaders in Guyana today, use such terms.
“Dignity is work! Work is dignity!”
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was, and never will be.” – Thomas Jefferson,
In the Mission Statement of her New Education Bill, Minister Manickchand states:
“An adequate framework for the delivery of high quality, contemporary education, to better develop each student’s potential and maximize their educational achievement.”
If I were the shadow minister of education, I might want to see what procedures are going to be used to realize these goals, how much it will cost, how will the results be evaluated, and if there are contingencies if goals are not being fully met.
Accountability, which I’m sure Minister Manickchand would have seen done.
It cannot be denied that our present educational system is based on elitism, which is based on a measurement of the student’s Intelligent Quotient (IQ). IQ is a measurement of how well a student does on a standardized test. Students with the highest IQ reaps the most rewards and adulation.
There is nothing wrong with this system. Society has to reward those who accomplish the most. Problems arise when the educational system educates all students in a lock step method, expecting that those students who do not do as well are not putting out the needed effort to do so. Parents of these students blame them, their teachers, or the school. Teachers and school administration blame the students and/or their parents. Children who perform at the top will produce children who do that also, and it is the same for children who perform at the bottom. One group shows the greatness of the system, and the other group shows its failures. Since the failures are far greater than the successes, it must be the educational system that is the problem.
Minister Manickchand and her advisers (who never seem to get any credit) must be congratulated for seeing the problem, and most importantly willing to tackle it head on.
Research shows that children who do well on IQ tests tended to do well as adults in society. A small sample of students with high IQ does not reflect well for the society. There has to be an increase in higher IQ performance.
But not all students will perform well on IQ tests, since sitting students at desk for extended periods of time is not an ideal learning environment for many students. It must be also noted that a child’s IQ is pretty much fixed by twelve years old!
Education then has to be from conception to death. On the one hand the developing baby has started learning, so the research has to be investigated to see what procedures are necessary in order to see that the growing baby is developing both mentally and physically to its fullest potential. The same has to be done from birth through the first twelve years of school. Some of what scientist are observing in children with high IQ’s is loving interactions with parents, healthy foods, keen interest/participation by parents in what the child is doing. There is more.
On the other hand, no one should deny the chance to learn in a society. This means adult education should become a norm, with schools offering adult evening classes with an equivalency high school diploma offered for the completion of a required program. An added advantage would be that schools that are closed for most of the day can now be put into use. Educated parents would have different expectations/attitude of their children
“An informed citizenry is the salvation of a democracy.” – Thomas Jefferson
The school system would not lose 20% of its students as dropouts, if there are programs that sustain the students’ interests. As such, schools should not be labelled numerically according to the level of IQ of its students, which translates into schools; 1 at the top (The best?), to some lower number – the bottom – representing students with the lowest IQ scores (The worst?)
While academic schools are certainly needed, tere must be schools that offer such programs as, wood shop, auto shop, metal shop, computer programming, recycling, community work, physical education, home economics, music, gardening, marching band.
I could go on.
What is very important to the society, and the Ministry of Education is student should be taught that jobs with soft hand and clean nails and white shirts with pens in the pockets, are not the only dignified or most important jobs there are. The school system has to change this culture whereby, to be important you have to work in an office, or drop out of school and have a baby, because one gets more attention and recognition for that achievement.
The school system has to not only give students reasons for being in school, not just because the law says so, but by what the school offers.
No child is born ‘bad’ – religion to the contrary. It’s what the child deals with in its environment that will determine how and what it thinks and act.
And the teachers!
Teachers originally went into the profession because it was their ‘Calling’. This was like becoming a minister or doctor. While ministers still talk about their Calling, doctors have long since upgraded their profession by following the research and scientific discoveries and demanded salaries which they felt were appropriate to their profession.
There are teachers today who do not view themselves as professionals, who still talk about their Calling. Salaries for most reflect that view.
Teachers are fourth on the salary scale for the level of education and training that they do.
Teachers are just below doctors in the amount of time spent doing additional research and study yet make just over half the average for doctors.
Teachers have less cavities only below police and combat soldiers, which is caused by grinding the teeth due to stress.
For the amount of take home work a similar profession would be making three times what teachers make.
It is only recently in more developed countries that teachers are now studying to be specialist/professionals in their field and being evaluated to determine their salary, which has increased considerably for those that are successful.
Teachers not only have to be trained in their specialty but must also be trained in the skills needed in order to maximize their students learning capacity.
AND COMPENSATED ACCORDINGLY.
Education does not belong to one political party, or one group. It is a nationally mandated program, which attempts to organize citizens toward certain values and virtues that will work in the best interest of its citizens and the society, as a whole.
Much success to you Hon. Minister PriyaManickchand
Albert R. Cumberbatch, Ph. D.
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