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An Education Revolution

What is it about a kid without a sparkle in his/her eyes that grabs your heart and pulls at it it so strongly? What is it about children who’ve lost their laughs that makes us so incredibly sad? Do cynical, depressed, distressed and discouraged young people disturb you?

When you look back on your own childhood and school experience, do you ever get the feeling that even though it was not excessively negative or traumatic, it still could have been much better?

And don’t you think we owe it to the next generation to ensure that every minute spent in the classroom yields far greater results than passes in a few compulsory subjects? Don’t you think we ought to use the classroom to create a safe place for self-discovery and learning, coupled with enthusiasm and fun?

I believe that if our schools continue to educate our children along the lines that we’ve been for the last century, we will end up with a society of mostly uninnovative conformist, ‘dicta-regurgitating ibots’ who resent the education process, and completely miss the value of the time they spend in the classroom.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reports that there are 769,239 children and youth between the ages of five to 19 in Jamaica. These are the ages between which most children start primary school and leave high school. If the average Jamaican child spends roughly seven hours per weekday for about 180 days each year in the classroom, that means that each child spends a total of 1,260 hours per year in the classroom. That’s a very long time – too long for us to take any chances, or get the education of the next generation wrong.

Each child brings a unique gift into the world, and the education system ought to be the place where that gift is found, exposed, developed and maximised. Instead, what we often see happening is an emphasis on memorising and regurgitating facts and figures, to the exclusion or marginalisation of other key elements of the learning process. There is also a heavy focus on academics, which often does not include theatre arts or other less conventional areas of study.

This month, for example, two of Jamaica’s most popular primary-school examinations became the subject of national debates. The Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) and the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) are two exams used to assess the literacy skills of our primary-school students, and their readiness to move on to secondary education.

Each year, as preparation for these exams takes place, many students find themselves pressured, burdened and agitated. Their only goal at those stages is to pass the exam; make their teachers, parents or guardians proud; and avert the shame and stigma that comes with failure, or even with near-but-not-total success.

I have seen so many young eyes filled with tears, heard shrieks of fear and disappointment and seen children literally fret themselves into sickness because they did not perform as well as they had hoped on one of these exams.

The same thing applies for the CXC Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam in high schools. At this stage, the exam candidates may be older and more contained in their emotions and reactions, but there is similar trepidation and disappointment when things don’t turn out the way they had planned, or hoped.

And the results we obtain annually in these exams paint a dismal picture of the effectiveness of our teaching system. Statistics from the National Progress Report on Jamaica’s Social Policy Goals (Jamaica Social Policy Evaluation, 2008) reveal that at the primary level over the 2006-2007 period, only 65 per cent of students who sat the Grade Four Literacy Test were successful in accomplishing full mastery of all the measures used to assess functional literacy. Fourteen per cent failed to master these areas at all.

At the secondary level in the same period, only 56 per cent of students allowed to sit the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) English language exam passed. An even more dismal 36 per cent of those entered to sit mathematics achieved passes.

What these results tell me is that something is wrong with what takes place annually in the classroom - obviously, something needs fixing. Why are our children taken through this rigorous and stressful cycle annually, only to yield less-than-satisfactory results? We’ve already tried changing the exam. It did not work. It is time to change the ENTIRE system. An education overhaul is long overdue in Jamaica!

Look at today’s schools. Think of today’s children. Do you think any of them deserves to have their hopes and dreams squelched by a system that does not recognise or embrace their unique artistic gifts or talents – a system that many argue literally sets them up for failure? Why do we keep sending our children through an obviously botched system, especially when there are ways in which the education experience can be made to be much more meaningful and fulfilling for them?

It is in the classroom, I believe, that our teachers get the opportunity every day to impart a legacy far greater than knowledge to the next generation. And it hurts me to see that opportunity squandered every day.

We don't need another barely literate and depressed generation. We need an education revolution.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Okeny-Lucia's picture

Happens also in Kenya

Dear Ruthibelle,
This is subject is spot on ,first congratulations for highlighting.

We are from a different continent but with the same problem.Here in Kenya this 2012 we have seen 4 pupils committing suicide for having pressured to produce results better than what they aspired.What we have is a bunch of students whose life is based cramming useless information that carries no impact to their life.
I hear sister when you say.........as preparation for these exams takes place, many students find themselves pressured, burdened and agitated.
It happens here to in this part of the world,there is need to change,and the change is here now in Pulse.I hope they read this soon.

Lucia Buyanza
Reproductive Health

Anne D.'s picture

A big topic in the U.S. too

Hi Ruthibelle,

Education "reform" is a huge topic in the U.S. You make a good case for an education "revolution." I'm curious about what you see as some of the first steps in that process. It's a tall order, for sure, but an important one: to provide a meaningful, fulfilling educational experience, as you say.

Anne

Greengirl's picture

A Frontline Issue

I could not help but copy and paste these statement from your article, "Do you think any of them deserves to have their hopes and dreams squelched by a system that does not recognize or embrace their unique artistic gifts or talents – a system that many argue literally sets them up for failure?". It got me nodding the moment I read it, because I very much agree with the assertion that, the unique gifts and talents of children are seldom recognized and nurtured within the critical learning stages of their schooling lives. You also made me realize that the situation is not just peculiar to my country Nigeria.

Any system of learning that prides dictation above discovering sure needs to be overhauled. I recall the story of one of my classmates way back, in high school who happened to be the best student in my Set. After high school, he went on to study Medicine at one of the best universities in Nigeria. Of course, because of his exceptional brilliance no one was surprised at this turn. However, by a chance meeting,I met him shortly after he had graduated from Medical school. I was taken aback when he informed me that he wasn't going to be a practicing doctor, as he'd prefer to be an account. Today, as I share this, he is a chartered account with a transnational oil company in Nigeria. Does this not make one think there were missing links during his formative years in school? Another victim of such missing links is my very self. While in junior high school, French language was one of the compulsory courses we had to take. Fortunately, I had picked interest in the language while being taught at primary school. It was one of my best subjects and I maintained excellence in the Subject at Junior High School. At the point of proceeding to Senior High School, we were required to drop two subjects. In spite of being one of the very best students in French, I dropped it as I didn't know which Subject to drop. The did had been done before my French teacher discovered. Of, course it didn't go down well with her. It's over twenty three years now since that happened, and I still regret that decision. Why? I have come across several career opportunities that I could have taken up, but couldn't because my French diction began to erode the very day I gave up the Subject.

Such unfortunate case scenarios will remain the bane until teaching systems embrace the true meaning of functional literacy. Thank you for letting the world know the need for a teaching system that recognizes the vital role individual gifts and talents play!

Hugs,

Olanike Olugboji

vivian's picture

There is indeed great point

There is indeed great point in your piece. You have picked an issue which is peculiar to most countries esp Nigeria. There is really need to restructure the system and syllabus of education. For decade, it had been the same, student only study to pass their promotion exam and not to build up their dream. It is really a wasted years for many children after leaving school. The education system had not given room for children to make better choices in life and also it has fail to realise that all children are not the same.

Your topic is such a unique one and should be a great concern to the country leaders for restructuring. Congratulation for this wonderful work you have done so well.mayso, how are u ruth. Nice to have u back.

Vivian

''Every woman have a story at every stage of Life''

jbaljko's picture

Reforming education

Hi Ruthibelle,
You've picked a timely topic for most places in the world. I know this is a big issue in the U.S. as well, and believe similar conversations are happening around Europe. Raising children so they can pass a standardized test misses the point -- and value --of education. Any thoughts on how the educational system can be shifted to both measure adequate literacy and math levels while encouraging and empowering children to discover their own talents and gifts? Now that Jamaica has changed the tests, are Jamaican educators, parents and government ministries being to discuss alternatives?

Thanks for sharing your story.
Jenn

"The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom, courage."
-Thucydides, ancient Greek historian & author

Ruthi-
It is good to read one of your articles again. This entry gives light to the entirety of these education issues, and especially the children who are affected. I think it is a problem around the world that we try to fix bits and pieces of a puzzle without looking at the whole picture. So, the root of the issue is not gotten to, leading to momentary fixes at best.

I hope there is light shed on this issue, and that a way begins to open up allowing for the beginnings of total change to this education system.

Let us Hope together-
Michelle
aka: Cali gal

Listener
Sister-Mentor
@CaliGalMichelle
facebook.com/caligalmichelle

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