Ian 'Magic' Hughes
Tuesday, 01 September 2009 05:55
By Ian Magic Hughes
Recently, there have been some heated debates on where we, as a nation, are heading on education. This heightened debate apparently stemmed from the government’s proposal to lengthen the school
hours. It would appear that more contact time is needed to improve the government’s education programme.
Presently, public secondary schools begin at eight in the morning, Monday to Friday, and finish at 1:30 in the afternoon.
At the primary level, classes begin at nine in the morning and end at three in the afternoon.
To some, teachers are unable to spend enough time to properly aid students’ development. Others are of the view that longer hours will not necessarily help, as better quality, and not more education is needed. Whatever decision is made by the Ministry of Education, hopefully it will result in an improved system.
According to Wikipedia, Education, in its broadest sense, is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense, education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another through institutions.
One main focus in the discussions currently being held therefore encompasses the operation of our learning institutions, namely our secondary and primary schools. I think that any time one takes to discuss the improvement of the youth is valuable time spent. My view of where we should go in terms of the discussion is for better education as opposed to more education. I believe that if we improve the quality of education, it will almost automatically demand more education, not necessarily at schools, but at the community level.
The classroom is just one area of learning, and I seriously believe that a solid and highly improved school system will translate into the youth exploring and researching more. This then will force the government to put other institutions in place to advance that new and expanded appetite to learn.
So, first off is improved education.
I was recently struck by a comment made by Minister of Education Dr Jacqui Quinn-Leandro on the way teachers enter the educational system. The minister lamented that no longer could we have persons going to teach before they are trained. Surely, one must recognize that teachers are the backbone of the educational system, and therefore serious attention must be paid to their development. It does not make much sense, in my mind, to have extended school hours with underdeveloped teachers.
Most times, when the subject of improved education arises, the cost factor usually becomes the main focus. There is most times, concern that it’s too costly to improve such systems.
Who is going to pay?
I think that too many times we use the excuse of high prices when we speak about developing the youth, the future leaders of the country. While the cost of improved levels of learning is high, we will pay a higher price if we do not give the youth, the next generation, the necessary skills needed for sustained growth. No doubt teacher training is absolutely necessary. Equally important is the need for proper facilities, and a comfortable environment in which to learn.
I think that we could spend more time, money and effort in improving the public schools in the country. I have been to a number of schools, and the bathrooms are disgustingly dirty. Some of the school premises are poorly kept, with broken doors and windows as well as beat-up chairs and desks.
The youth should have a sense that the system is doing all in its wisdom and power to develop them. I am not sure that this present environment sends that message to the youth.
The fact that for about 30 years, this nation has not had a proper public library, speaks volumes as to where we place education in the pecking order of responsibility.
And again, while I agree that the cost of improved education is high, one must recognize its importance. We must start looking at solutions, and not excuses to improve our educational system. The responsibility does not rest on just the shoulders of the government, but on all in society, especially parents. We must teach our children proper behaviour, like respecting authority and other people’s property. We must teach our children the importance of going to school to learn and not just play.
I have been to a number of parents/teachers meetings and a major concern is the lack of respect by our youth. That early training must come from home. Teachers sometimes have to spend too much time simply trying to get children to behave, rather than actually teaching. So we should ensure that we teach our children how to relate to others by sharing those values in the home.
Parents need to recognize that they play a huge role in assisting teachers, although they are not present in the classroom. Parents need to interact more with teachers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their children. Not just administrators or teachers, but rather parents and other members of the society have a key role to play in an improved educational system.
Everything cannot and should not be left to the Ministry of Education. Teachers must be properly remunerated as well. They should feel that the system recognizes their contribution to nation building. One of the oppositions to longer hours at school has nothing to do with whether or not it’s better for the students. Unfortunately, it’s about economics. Some teachers, to supplement their incomes, offer classes outside of the regular school hours.
There are horror stories of students preparing for CXC’s and for months, there is no teacher on the compound teaching the relevant classes. Surely, longer school hours will not fix such a problem.
Improved education may be costly, but we owe it to the youth to properly prepare them for their future roles in society.
A healthy and safe environment with adequate teachers equipped with the tools to carry out their duties cannot be too much to ask from their adults, costs notwithstanding.
I think that at this time, better education is necessary as opposed to more education.
The system begs for improvement.