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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Educational philosophy and social change

TTUTA

CRIME, POVERTY, unemployment, corruption, immorality, juvenile delinquency, racism, violence, nonchalance, and intolerance are problematic challenges in our society. Most of these are the natural offspring of decades of ineffectual leadership. Nevertheless, today’s citizens expect governments to adequately control and subsequently resolve these longstanding social issues.

In antiquity, however, charting the resolutions of societal dilemmas was the domain of a small group of intellectual thinkers called philosophers. Social change was accepted to be a slow process and the realm of sound philosophical thought was the essential key to resolving many social problems over time.

Since “philosophy determines goals determines methods” (Green, 2013), it follows that unresolved problems are largely due to the use of irrelevant methodologies based on faulty philosophy. This applies to all disciplines including education.

Subsequently, the degree to which the education system can realise stated outcomes is ultimately based on the relevancy of the educational philosophy that is at its core. Our underlying assumptions and beliefs about education influence our choice of educational outcomes and the strategies we employ to achieve them.

Several prominent individuals have spoken about the shortcomings of the education system in the past decade and the need for meaningful change. Describing it as “a train with failed brakes that is hurtling downhill at breakneck speed,” one education specialist, Dr Paula Marks, advocated in 2012 “for comprehensive re-engineering and reculturing of our education system.”

Three years later, former president Anthony Carmona called for an overhaul of the education system, a call that was echoed by his successor President Paula-Mae Weekes in January 2019 and by Prof Ramesh Deosaran a few weeks later.

TTUTA has also advocated for reform of the education sector on several occasions. Such reform must begin with a thorough examination of our assumptions and beliefs about what is education.

It is noteworthy that our system of education emerged from the era of British colonialism and so too our assumptions and beliefs about education. With the adopted Cambridge model came a philosophy of education that was strongly influenced by early post-modernistic thought in which education was viewed primarily as a means of certifying students.

Education processes (methods) were therefore implemented to help students acquire the prerequisite competencies needed to eventually be good workers. Indeed, even today’s students are often encouraged by family members and teachers alike to study diligently to pass exams so that they can be gainfully employed later in life.

The negative effects of this inherited post-modernistic philosophy of education are many. They include a gross augmentation of the importance of academics with little regard for sports and aesthetic subjects such as music, art, dance and drama. Values education is not seen as critical.

All-rounded students are the exception and interdisciplinary study is a foreign concept even in higher education. Creative thinking and expression are subdued by curriculum conformity. Students are trained to be individual competitors rather than synergistic collaborators, as parents place value on marks more than their social development. Students are taught how to pass exams rather than to think critically.

A much-needed culture of learning is stifled as students from as early as the infant department are systematically trained to prepare for examinations rather than to be lifelong learners.

The Cambridge postmodern philosophy of education, which was adopted by most of the western world, differs significantly with that of its rival Oxford.

With traditions that span over a millennium, the Oxford model is based on a philosophical framework that emphasises scholarship. Education is viewed primarily as a means of maximising learning, the goal of which is to produce scholars capable of presenting viable solutions to societal challenges.

Consequently, methodologies employed are geared towards developing systems thinking, and to encourage interdisciplinary studies, creativity, contextualised and values-based learning.

The contrast demonstrates how an educational philosophy and its derived goals and methodologies can impact the outcome of the education system.

Given the foregoing, TTUTA once again advocates for the reformation of the education system beginning with a collaborative examination, by all major stakeholders, of the educational philosophy in the context of our socio-cultural needs and values.

At the dawn of this new decade, the association stands ready to assist in the overhauling process with the aim of redesigning an education system that produces good, decent citizens, who are concerned about the society as much as themselves.

Constructing a relevant philosophy of education based on our local context and socio-cultural needs is a necessary first step to achieving positive social change.

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