Academic curricula in the schools need to be transformed into quality educational curricula

Dear Editor,

The editorial in SN of April 5, captioned ‘Boys and girls: redressing the balance,’ is extremely relevant. The editorial observes that the debate in the Caribbean does not yet appear to have produced an implementable plan to address the problem. Judging by the progress that the Caribbean has made towards the establishment of the Caribbean Single Market Economy, we may be expecting too much.  But to return to the subject under discussion, your suggestion: “moving towards a hybrid co-education system with the reintroduction of some single-sex schools,” is worth a try, if only for reasons of comparative study.  My question is; “Who will teach the boys?”

There is little doubt that the practice of education in Guyana needs to be transformed, and there are at least nine major issues that need to be considered very exhaustively. They are: 1) the purpose(s) education should serve; 2) the provision of adequate finances – the 2013 budget allocation is still woefully inadequate; 3) the re-professionalization and socialization of teachers; 4) the mobilization of partners in education; 5) the provision of adequate purpose-built physical facilities and grounds; 6) the development of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular programmes that facilitate educational success; 7) the abolition of sponsored mobility, and the introduction of contest mobility; 8) the development of a secondary school leaving diploma that acknowledges and credits a variety of secondary school career achievements and contributions; 9) the organization of the regional system into “families of schools” under the supervision of a national board of education.

Historically, several factors have contributed to the lack of balance in school curricula, especially the long-held and popular misconception of what it is to educate, or what education is all about. This misconception has in turn led to the belief that academic success is the same as educational success. It is not. Academic success is just one component of educational success.

It is now almost universally accepted that education (or, to educate), is a process of nurturing, and facilitating the development of the innate potentials, intelligences or talents of individuals, by structuring and presenting opportunities and environments conducive to the enjoyment of learning and healthy living. Each individual possesses at least eight different kinds of intelligences. The degree of development of each varies within and between individuals. All children should have the opportunity to have their individual intelligences or talents challenged daily.

However, it has been reported (SN, January 4, 2012, Jeffrey), that more than half of the 18 000 students who leave school annually, are functionally illiterate. It is evident that after spending 11, 13, or 15 years in the Guyanese school system nearly 10 000 students leave every year without having had any opportunity of knowing their true potential or worth.   This is a great tragedy.  The waste of a human mind is a terrible thing, much more 10 000! The quality of an education system is judged by how well it meets the needs of individual students, individual teachers (since schools are places where teachers are expected to grow and develop professionally), the respective communities and the wider society.

The instruction given in our schools is not educational. In the vast majority of instances, and at all levels, instruction is mere indoctrination, and learning is by rote. Since children do not naturally learn this way, this kind of teaching interferes with students’ learning and creativity, and in particular has impacted adversely on the school success of male students.

Recent research suggests that we are not paying sufficient attention to what motivates boys, their needs, their aspirations, or are taking seriously their interests. The findings also suggest, that school curricula that emphasize the academics (books only), have served to alienate male students who have greater interest, and success in areas with hands-on, or practical components.

To redress the curricular balance in our schools will demand three things: a) that the present core curricula be inverted from early childhood through the secondary level; b) that sponsored mobility (levels 2, 4 & 6 external assessments) be abolished; and c) that the current emphasis on academic excellence be superseded by educational excellence.    The focus of all curricula must now be human development. To reiterate, all children should have the opportunity to have their individual talents or intelligences challenged daily.

The core of all school curricula should be interdisciplinary, consisting of the natural sciences, particularly the biological sciences, applied sciences (agricultural, environmental, health, etc), technology, and the humanities. This core curriculum can be used as a vehicle for the teaching language and mathematical skills.  This kind of curricular orientation is critical, since a paramount educational goal is the implantation of scientific and technological literacy as part of the common Guyanese culture.

The reorientation of school curricula to embody hands-on’ and practical components, should also go a long way towards the elimination of male dropouts. Remember ‘Skinny Dog’ – a 14-year-old Houston CHS dropout?  Many of these young and vulnerable males are recruited into the ranks of social deviants and criminals. The economic and social costs of this demographic time bomb, continues to elude Guyanese policy-makers.

However, the transformation of academic curricula into quality educational curricula cannot be accomplished without adequately qualified teachers in our schools. The teacher is the single most important factor in discovering and nurturing individual talents and potentials. But, teaching in today’s classrooms is far more difficult and complex than it ever was since schooling was established nearly two hundred years ago.  Teachers are now challenged by many new non-traditional professional and social responsibilities, and ought to be adequately prepared for their tasks.

Guyana must invest much more to attract great male teachers back to the teaching profession. Great role models are needed to inspire our children.

Yours faithfully,
Clarence O Perry

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