The education conundrum


Being a parent is never easy, being the perfect parent is impossible. So spare a thought for teachers, especially those without a vocation, saddled with the job of partnering with parents in the most important and difficult job of all, the burden of shaping the future of our country and society, for it is nothing less than that they are engaged in at their schools.

We have lost sight of that fact.

The crisis in our society is not unassociated with how we were brought up at home and at school. Ordinarily, we spend as much time in school as we do with our parents for most of our lives until we start work, yet, by some perversion, teaching has never been fully accorded the place in the hierarchy of professions that it deserves.

Were there ever any island scholarships for teachers? Maybe once, when we had so much money and you could get a scholarship probably to study manicuring.

And on that point, in difficult economic times the government is right to cut the number of scholarships. However, I hope the ones retained are in those disciplines that make us better people.

I underscore every word written last Monday by fellow columnist and former teacher and librarian Debbie Jacob. Education is not about learning facts to get through exams or getting lucrative jobs; it is only partly about that. It is much more about preparing children for life and for managing themselves and the societies they will inherit. To do that they must learn how to be human.

We talk constantly about our violent society, the lack of empathy, the topsy-turvy values, the poor life choices that lead to misery and poverty, the cussedness, the dishonesty and corruption and, even, the inability to think critically. And that is in a country which has offered free cradle-to-grave education for at least two generations.

This is a country with an enviable library network, chains of bookshops and independent booksellers, of art galleries and two universities, of technical and professional colleges and umpteen private schools and subsidised everything. The question must be asked: Why are we then producing so many people who are ill equipped to live and survive in society and take advantage of those assets?

The answer is that they are not being adequately prepared for their role. Our education system is broken, good and proper. Covid19 has pulled the cover off.

Debbie Jacob must have read my mind when she pointed out that so much money has been spent on education, yet so many of us refuse to, cannot follow or mistrust the science that shows how we can save lives during this pandemic by wearing a mask and avoiding others outside our bubbles.

We cannot distinguish fiction from facts, good from bad, up from down, so we become disconnected individuals, easily misled and difficult to govern. Had more time and money been spent on the humanities, developing children’s imaginations through self-expression and imbuing in them the joy of learning through reading and the discovery it brings, they would have taught themselves most of what the schools and homes could not teach.

This has to start at primary level. By the time secondary school starts, the disadvantages are compounded. We see it in the projects my organisations run in schools.

Universities are therefore turning out very narrowly educated people who lack the skills to advance a sufficiently humane society.

The educators and government have a near-impossible job during the pandemic, and worse afterwards, but, then, they simply must tackle the way education has been working, because it has failed too many citizens. They will be judged as not taking the tide at the flood, because it is a time of opportunity. Everyone wants improvements, not least the teachers, who are bending under the strain of virtual teaching, which leaves them out of necessary one-on-one contact with many students who do not have the wherewithal to work remotely and virtually.

The inadequate parenting which large numbers of children endure will matter and the lack of socialising academic input will produce a generation the likes of which we have not seen before.

We have to tear up the existing road map and start from scratch – tabula rasa – and defy those whose self-interest is against change and the future of our people instead of just theirs.

Corporate TT and the NGO sector have shown their willingness to bear some of the burden of radical change. because we are acutely aware of the dangers we face if there is more of the same.

I saw firsthand how my grandson was advanced in every aspect of his education – in the widest sense – by his parents during the lockdown. It was worth two years of official schooling.

The disadvantaged would be set back by least the same degree, so the inequalities will multiply not just academically but emotionally and socially. Our teachers will need to be as prepared as we are.


"The education conundrum"

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