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Monday 21 October 2019
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Classrooms without walls

Culture Matters

“...Without skills, students are left to memorize facts, recall details for worksheets, and relegate their educational experience to passivity...Embracing a 21st-century learning model requires consideration of those elements that could comprise such a shift: creating learners who take intellectual risks, fostering learning dispositions, and nurturing school communities where everyone is a learner.”

– Sarah Brown Wessling, Teacher of the Year, USA 2010

IN 2019, what is inside the head of the average 11-year-old? Gaming? Latest phones? Football? The opposite sex? (of course). If this question were asked in the 1970s what would the response be? Or during the US occupation of TT in the 1940s? In many ways, people are a product of the times in which they grew up. The music, fashion, political and social issues tend to inform their world view.

So, in the 21st century, the average 11-year-old can sit at home and play video games with friends who live in another part of the county, follow influencers on Instagram or research homework online, often without ever having to open a book.

We live in a world where just one social media network has about two billion users worldwide – the entire global population is just over seven billion – and it is about to create its own currency. Facebook, led by Mark Zuckerberg, has recognised that there are some one billion people who are not part of traditional banking systems; for the first time, state monopoly of money may actually be threatened by his planned incursion into the financial world.

Are we teaching or even training our young people to disrupt standard modes of thinking and behaving? Should we be? As one educator notes, “The primary purpose of education is to enable students to make a living as adults; without this capability, everything else falls away. Yet we still teach within a basic framework established in the 19th century. In today’s education environment, we seem to be slipping back from the future into the 19th century’s contextual emphasis on reading, writing, and math.”

Thus, in the heads of 11-year-olds, is there a parallel system taking place, that is, what is taught in school and what they learn from the “real world?”

Today, as we devour the published lists of names in the newspapers and begin anew the discussions about the relevance of our education system, how will 21st-century realities impact what decisions we make?

Certainly, to discover the answers, we require a complete paradigm shift, a moving of walls built on colonial, indentured and enslaved structures. These structures have locked us into modes of thinking where we have possibly not seen the value of analysing Andre Tanker’s music in our literature class, using one of Pundit Ravi Ji’s poems to teach history or incorporating Rudolph Charles’ arrangements into mathematics.

It is confusing why we have not standardised these methods as educators point out that aspects of music such as beat, rhythm and melody contain mathematical principles like “spatial properties, sequencing and counting.”

Removing traditional walls will also mean that we move away from choosing subjects on predetermined lines to a broader, more flexible system. Twenty first-century learning must incorporate film, gaming or online entrepreneurship as serious offerings.

Going deeper, for a society with an increasingly complex mix of races, cultures and religious beliefs, when will we break down the walls that have so far excluded bhajans, Orisa songs or Indigenous Peoples’ chants in our school experience? This is about more than acknowledging diversity.

For many, belief is integral to identity and a sense of belonging. Practical exposure to different systems must therefore be included as part of history and social studies.

Even if the 11-year-old appreciates these changes, there is the matter of equipping the teaching fraternity to deliver on such a curriculum. In one of her blog entries, Sarah Brown Wessling made the simple but powerful observation that “we need 21st-century teachers, not just adults teaching in the 21st century.”

A mood of anxiety envelopes some of us when the rains come, sparked by fears of flooding, loss of livelihood and increased cost of market goods. However, if we creatively teach how ancient cultures respected the earth even as we incorporate technological approaches to protect our environment, we would develop more civic-minded nationals who refuse to litter or deface our country.

In fact, if you need guidance on how to construct future classrooms without walls, just ask the 11-year-olds. They’ll tell you what to do.

Dara E Healy is a performance artist, communications specialist and founder of the NGO, the Indigenous Creative Arts Network – ICAN

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