THE call by President Paula-Mae Weekes for TT’s education system to do better is timely, relevant, commendable and worthy of serious consideration by the national community. This call was made at the President’s Medal Award Ceremony at the National Academy for the Performing Arts.
These sentiments were couched against observations by Weekes of the kind of citizens that comprise society and the various social and economic ills that confront us, appearing insurmountable sometimes. It is a call that resonates with TTUTA. Indeed a former president of TTUTA repeatedly made similar calls in the past based on the outcome of the current education model.
If the education system is about creating the future, the current level of social dysfunction that characterises our society to a large extent is an outcome of the education system. It therefore stands to reason that any serious attempt to permanently address these deficiencies must of necessity attack the problem at its very root – the education system.
In defining the education system it must be noted that this includes both formal and informal systems – schools, homes, communities, religious institutions and the media.
The President lamented the extent to which university students – the crème de la crème of our education system, displayed attitudes of laziness, dishonesty, a sense of entitlement - wanting maximum return for minimum effort. These sentiments are regularly expressed by many employers in their quest to ensure that employees are inculcated with the right work ethic.
She reminded parents to be as consumed with their children’s character and public spirit as they are about their academic pursuits. Many may argue that white collar crime is more prevalent and rampant in our country than we may care to admit and these are, in most instances committed by our educated elite – those who are deemed successful products of the education system.
Our antiquated model, based on a system of competition, where the majority must fail in order to maintain a societal status quo, defines excellence exclusively in terms of academic certification. Given its high-stakes nature, the end justifies the means and attitudes of dishonesty, selfishness, and general amorality, have slowly become socially acceptable in one’s pursuit of academic success.
Such attitudes, having been firmly implanted in the social psyche of citizens from a tender age, it is no wonder that we see the continued rapid moral degradation of the fabric of the society with its negative social and economic consequences.
The President quite rightly opined that persons who lament the state of the society must remember that the society was a mirror reflecting the people’s collective attitudes, practices and principles.
She further contended that if people were being honest, the school’s curricula in its current configuration, was not delivering the quality individual we needed to build our nation. This is a strong assertion; one that must cause pause and introspection by all civic-minded citizens. Bearing in mind that all of our school graduates were going to be citizens, she asserted that their conduct, value systems and patriotism would determine our viability as a prosperous nation in every sense of the term.
Our notions of education must be defined in the context of the kind of society we desire. Schools must not only be about producing workers, but be more focused on producing good, decent citizens, whose outlook is characterised by what is good for the society and not only self. Competition cannot predominantly define the child’s school experience, where the majority will be certified as failures by the age of 16.
Academic excellence must also be defined in the context of citizenship, democracy and social justice. Our maturity as a nation will be defined by our capacity to engage in serious introspection about how we got to our current state and our determination and capacity to effect the necessary transformation, notwithstanding the protestations of some sectors that benefit from the perpetuation of the status quo.
Our schools must represent true hope for all children, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. All children must be viewed with the potential to add value the society, because of their unique talents and abilities and not just their capacity to pass examinations. The slavish adherence to an examination model will not facilitate such a transformation. Our disposition to certify children as failures from a tender age via unnecessary high-stakes examinations only serves to demoralise, demotivate and create citizens who will subsequently espouse a sense of hopelessness and dependence.