Fierce resistance by students to any call for critical and independent thinking

Dear Editor,

I refer to the article titled, `Poor teaching methods responsible for high failure rate at nurses’ state final –Public Health Ministry’ (SN March 19).  I think that matters go much farther and deeper.  The following comments are offered.

In some respects, it might be the methodology; it might be the teachers, too.  Still, I attach very little weight to those two areas of deficiency identified officially.  As I read the quotation from the ministry’s PRO, I thought it captured so many things lying beneath the surface of this near catastrophic nursing failure rate.  It also goes beyond nursing.  The PRO is quoted in part as saying, “According to the officials they performed very poorly…  Some misinterpreted questions….. They couldn’t…explain, …They seemed accustomed to only being asked to recall.”

Mr Esseboom should be congratulated for pinpointing what are the norms, the cultures, and the mentalities in the educational environment from which those same nursing students originate.  I repeat them for emphasis: misinterpreting of questions, failing to conceptualise, lacking in explanatory powers, and the self-limiting nature of the box of mere recall.  I can say that the just mentioned is familiar territory observed frequently; it is without the momentary balm of any welcome interruption from those who might articulate or represent the refreshingly different.  Rather, there is this fixed determination and immovable dedication to memorisation in educational settings and realms.  Therein resides the danger and the downfall.  Seek the gems of (or endeavour to introduce) comprehension, interpretation, extrapolation, and implementation, and there is near universal blankness on the part of students.  There is this fierce, sturdy resistance to any call for critical and independent thinking, the kind that comes from enduring preparation.  No, memorisation it is, and it must be.  Incidentally, that is the extent of associated reading.  It is limited to recommended texts, and nothing more.  Too much effort, too much torture; there are so many more delightful ways to be a student: Think cyberspace for starters.

I recall self and peers having to read through entire books (not on the class list) to unearth the meagre reward of a few lines.  This had to be done with many a heavy tome.  Sadly, this is not practised today; it is not part of the learning culture, the sweat that brings the sweet discovery of broad horizons and new summits.  In large measure, the absence of most of this goes to the heart of the PRO’s disclosure, which in and of itself must be a public nationwide confession.

This memorisation is the norm in the early preparatory fields of the CXC.  It is why there is significant difficulty at the higher CAPE level for many, other than the handful of stellar performers.  At this higher level, everything but memorisation is called for and demanded.  There is the demand for thinking and implementing, for peeling the onion of the pages to get to the thin layer of real knowledge, perhaps of truth itself.  That onion has proven to be eye-watering, and nose-bleeding, if not mind-bending for too many.  I daresay that this is what plagued the last cohort of nursing students in that last fateful examination.

The lament of the Public Health Ministry is understood and appreciated.  When the entire run-up to higher or specialised education (as in nursing) is obsessed with cramming and memorisation, then the result is the pathetic performance, as just revealed.  With respect, the programmed and self-programmed robots are at home on the narrow, restrictive tracks, which trap and render them patently ineffective and unready for the challenges of today’s world.  That track is liked; it is embraced and worshipped.

Editor, unless different mindsets and approaches are insisted upon and introduced, then it will be more of the same, whether in nursing or other fields.  It starts with moving away from what enfeebles and humiliates.  Students must read, they must be prepared to interpret and critique and master.  They must learn to think for themselves, and like it.  They must go outside the lines.


Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall


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