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Some educational issues – teaching, learning episodes

Anthony Griffith

Some educational issues – teaching, learning episodes

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There are SOME educational matters that arise over the course of time and are sufficiently topical to deserve some comment, however brief, since they represent important teaching/learning episodes. Permit me to highlight here a few such issues.
Educational standards
In the Nation newspaper of January 1, one writer mourns what he calls “the plummeting educational standards” in Barbados. The writer, though, neglected to indicate any specifics on this rapid decline.
There is evidence, however, to suggest that our educational standards have, in fact, been improving noticeably over the last decade or two. There are now higher standards for obtaining a Barbados Scholarship or Exhibition.
The University of the West Indies (UWI) is currently offering post-graduate programmes in an increasingly wider number of areas and is also attracting greater numbers of international students.  
Many primary school teachers hold graduate and post-graduate degrees; and the majority of our teachers, at all levels, are currently trained.  
What is clear, though, is that there is a fundamental difference between “standards” and “performance”. The one deals with expectations and/or targets, objectives, if you will; while the other deals with actual output or results. Thus when students fail an examination or do not behave as expected, it certainly does not mean that the standards are low – or are plummeting. All it simply means is that the performance did not meet the standards set.
We must, however, be ever vigilant in maintaining, and improving, our educational standards; and there is always room for qualitative improvement.
Some standards that have definitely plummeted here are those related to the quality of speech and speaking, standards related to behaviour and interpersonal relationships, standards for levels of thinking and reasoning, standards of service and moral standards. In too many cases, mediocrity has become the new standard.
University of technology
In light of the announcement that three more secondary schools will become sixth form institutions, one wonders what has become of the vision for the University College of Barbados.
More sixth form schools, though laudable, essentially mean “more of the same”, and a wider path to UWI. The concept of a university of technology, however, offering full degree programmes in a variety of technical, vocational and scientific areas, holds the promise of something different and innovative, and different paths in the development of essential skills, expertise and more creative thinking.  
This is certainly critical at this point in our economic and technological development; and would also seem essential amidst the sound bites about Barbados as an entrepreneurial hub.  
Furthermore the designation of a “university college” also carries the sense of an upgrade, and of greater international recognition in terms of our educational standards and output.  
What’s an industrial school?
One wonders at the continued use of the term “Government Industrial School”. In what sense is this institution justifiably classified as “industrial” today? What is there that is “industrial” about the institution? Or what industrial activities exist there?
Similarly, is this institution really a “school”, and in what sense? Or is its function essentially that of a penal, custodial institution? It is thus neither “industrial” nor “a school”. So one wonders why it is not correctly renamed as a juvenile detention centre?  
Is the existing misnomer merely a relic of a distant colonial past with which we seem blithely comfortable in some respects – another colonial demon that we tarry to exorcize? Or is there a particular lesson that is being taught here?
Lesson in cultural heritage
On the premise that our children learn more from life and experiences than in the classroom, we can assume that they learn from what they observe, hear and do. They may thus hear that Errol Barrow is one of our National Heroes and the Father of our Independence, and that we highly value his contribution as part of our cultural and historical heritage.  
But then they happen to visit Mr Barrow’s birthplace at The Garden in St Lucy and they see a shockingly derelict, dilapidated and roofless structure whose major inhabitants are rodents, insects and wild bush.
The children may become rather confused and bewildered, and wonder why this National Hero is being so callously disrespected. For them,it will certainly be a learning episode; but, what would they have learned?  
In discussing most educational issues, it is ever useful to reflect on three important points: (i) that education is not about subjects and exams; it is about learning, about developing one’s own capabilities and one’s personal and cultural identity; (ii) education is not the same as schooling; and (iii) less than ten per cent of what we know or learn is acquired in school or in the classroom.
 • Anthony Griffith is a former senior lecturer in education at UWI, Cave Hill.