Sunday, March 3, 2024

All students can learn


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WHENEVER EXAMINATION RESULTS are announced, there is the predictable call for fundamental changes to our educational system.

With about 60 per cent of our secondary school students failing to achieve Grades 1 or 2 CSEC passes, the system clearly needs improving. 

However, an analysis of the recommended changes reveals that the aim is not to reduce the failure rate, but rather, to divert those considered “non-academic” into trade schools, where they can learn to “work with their hands”.

Hands do not work by themselves. The same brain activity required to guide a surgeon’s hands is the same that is required to guide an artisan’s. The reason why one became a surgeon and the other a steel-bender is based on the incorrect assumption that some secondary students are not academically suited, and should be sent to “work with their hands”. All of our secondary school students can learn – they just need time and encouragement.

In primary school, I had difficulty understanding the work. My teachers did their best, but I simply could not understand most mathematical concepts – like the square root. In response, for one year my mother taught me English, my father taught me mathematics, and I was banned from watching television. With much effort, I passed the Common Entrance Examination for Combermere School.

I entered Combermere in 1975 and can still relive the feelings of accomplishment when I realised that I was actually understanding the work. However, I soon recognised that I had another problem. While the teacher’s and textbook’s explanations were understandable, I had difficulty remembering the material once the teacher left the classroom, or once I closed my textbook. My brain seemed to leak knowledge like a sieve, so that there was very little left to recall during tests and examinations.

I occupied the bottom third of the class for most of my secondary school life, and observed too many boys giving up prematurely. One senior teacher revealed his observation that most boys gave up in third form. Sometime between late fourth and mid-fifth form, my brain seemed to mature, and I began to both understand and remember the work. Had I not kept persisting, had my parents not kept encouraging me, then I would not be a structural engineer today.

The solution is to keep all of our secondary school students interested enough in the school work, until their brains have had a chance to develop to both understand and remember information.

The secondary school curriculum [should] be re-arranged to benefit all students, not just the top 40 per cent. Therefore, the first three years should be dedicated to teaching the more practical aspects of all subjects, like: music-by-ear, conversational languages, applied sciences, English literature, art, technical drawing and home economics. The final two years should be reserved for adding the more theoretical CXC requirements.

The foreseen criticism is that Barbados needs all types of workers. That is accepted. However, who gets to choose another’s vocation? The educational system is currently set up for those who mentally develop earlier. They get to choose their vocations. The remainder simply take what is available. There is an attempt to formalise this by forcing a set of persons who mentally develop slower into the trades.

A better way is to keep all of the students interested in learning by initially teaching them the practical aspects of subjects. In this way, all students can experience the immediate benefits of all subjects during their first three years of secondary school. During this time, they can continue to develop mentally without thinking that they cannot learn despite their best efforts.



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