ONE DAY a week I head east to Cumuto. Driving against the endless traffic heading towards Port of Spain makes me feel like we’re going to come out of this covid19 pandemic some day without learning much of anything important about ourselves or the best way we learn or work.
We haven’t resumed sending our children back to their schools yet and the traffic is bad. It looks like we are determined to return to long, exhausting days for workers and students. We’ll look at building more flyovers rather than examining less days of the week to put workers and students on the road.
Months ago, I advocated that we keep work from home days for our public and private workforce and learn from home days for primary students. Businesses, community centres, religious organisations and NGOs should provide learning opportunities for secondary school students once a week.
If we rotate secondary school forms, we could cut the time students travel to school every day, make students more community conscious and provide workers in our communities the opportunity to teach our secondary students invaluable skills they don’t get in school.
We once called this the hidden curriculum. This is where we taught the values and skills that students couldn’t get in a textbook. Community-based programmes are the place where students can learn organisational and business skills directly from people working in jobs students might want to explore for their own careers some day. Many people in our workforce have valuable lessons to teach, but they don’t have consistent time to volunteer once a week in schools. Why can’t students go to them?
NGOs can help students learn the value of community service. Gone are the days when students’ grades alone get them into good foreign schools. Many of the schools in the US that once relied on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) now want to see what community service students have done. Universities don’t want to see a term project. They want to see a long-term commitment to community service.
Any means of measuring the success of an education in today’s world must measure how schools teach empathy skills. Community service projects build empathy. We need that to address everything from fighting pandemics to fighting crime. Empathy and a sense of community help combat social issues we are facing including violence and crime.
What if students worked towards that one day of community service every week by attending classes in their schools four days a week? Students could identify a community-based programme that teaches them a skill or satisfies their curiosity. Community service projects require creativity, planning, fund-raising, budgeting and reporting – all useful skills for life.
What if the student who dreams of being a veterinarian volunteered at an animal shelter or worked in a veterinarian’s office or the student who wanted to be a teacher reads to children in hospital once a week?
Years ago, when I lived in central Trinidad, I saw the most amazing apprenticeship programmes where teenagers learned car mechanics, car upholstery, plumbing or electrical work.
Sadly, the gifted men who took these youths in as paid apprentices got students who did not pass Common Entrance, which preceded SEA. Students deemed failures by society came to these programmes and still these youth thrived. Those same programmes could be part of the school curriculum.
Last year the International School of Port of Spain began its service-learning programme for secondary school in the middle of a pandemic, and it was a resounding success. Students learned to make hand sanitiser, raise funds to provide hampers for the needy.
Students found ways to make these projects work while they had online learning so think of what they could do if this were incorporated in a four-day school week with one day off a week dedicated partly to community service.
The five-day work and school week is as outdated as the six and seven-day workweek once was. It’s time we establish a greater sense of trust in each other, and we begin by believing that workers and students will be more productive with a four-day workweek and time devoted to community service in their schedule.
It’s a carrot at an end of a stick, an opportunity to grow and learn in new, amazing ways, a way to build community spirit and empathy skills. It’s a solution to the traffic jams that are the root of national fatigue.