AS ANOTHER school year draws to a close, I wonder what is the purpose of education in this country, and what do we want students to know when they enter the work world?
This is certain: Education has nothing to do with how many passes you get. I’ve known students with eight CXC passes who have no functional knowledge, and I’ve known truly intelligent people in prison who have no passes.
I know that on some dusty shelf in some government office lies a big, fat document produced by the National Curriculum Council about 25 years ago. I had a cabinet appointment to that committee, and I represented the people of TT.
For two years, about 25 of us, representing every faction imaginable in TT, met once a month to put this massive document together. We each got paid $700 a month, which was a hefty amount of money if you add up all those people and all that time.
We were determined to move education away from rote learning, CXC and CAPE passes and concentrate on values and skill-based learning. Nothing has highlighted the need for change in education more than the pandemic when we went from office-based workplaces stressing collaborative skills to working at home independently.
Here are some of the skills and values we need to examine in education:
1. Listening – This is the skill most sorely lacking in our lives, and it is the foundation for all personal and work relationships. Our remote-controlled gadgets with instant replay have eliminated the feeling of urgency to tune in and listen – even when it comes to television or phone messages. We don’t listen to opposing views. Communication skills are poor because listening skills are poor.
2. Empathy – We’re all reeling from the rising cost of living, which is creating a bigger divide between the rich and poor than ever. We’re so caught up in our own personal struggle to survive economically and emotionally that we aren’t empathising with other people’s views and challenges. Empathy creates a foundation for understanding problems and issues we need to fix in society.
3. Reading – Readers fared better during the pandemic because books provided a form of entertainment and an escape during lockdowns. Books helped avid readers to hone their empathy and analytical skills. Reading is the foundation for learning. It provides opportunities to develop empathy. Readers rarely feel lonely.
4. Technology – We recognised the importance of technology before covid19, but the pandemic taught us the importance of evaluating the information we get by using technology. How credible are the resources students get from the internet? Evaluating resources is an important skill for life.
5. Relevance – When we’re caught up in daily existence, we get in a rut and tend to forget the importance of staying relevant. If we are mindful of how the workforce is changing we can tailor education to meet the future needs of the workplace. What skills will we need a decade from now? What skills will become irrelevant? We need to examine our education system to determine how well we are addressing relevance.
6. Patience – In those fast-paced pre-pandemic days, we didn’t see the need to practise patience, but lockdowns, lack of social contact and working from home required patience to deal with a totally different lifestyle. Slowing down our lives gave us more time to think about our lives. Dealing with the pandemic should have taught us the importance of patience.
7. Prioritisation – Working and studying at home during the pandemic created a need to prioritise daily tasks. Without long commutes, we had more time on our hands. How did we handle that time and balance the demands of independent learning outside of the classroom with our personal needs for entertainment? What lessons about prioritising time have been carried back to the classroom? Schools dump a lot of homework on students, but rarely if ever do they teach study skills and how to prioritise time. That’s an important life skill to learn.
8. Trust – The pandemic made us examine trust in a whole new way. Teachers had to trust students to function at home as more independent learners; employers had to trust employees to work at home. We had to trust family workers, strangers and healthcare workers like never before. How do we teach this important value in school?
These are some of the important skills and values we need to teach so students will be more prepared for everyday challenges and crises in life. Education is about far more than CXC and CAPE passes.