Blog: What our Education System cannot achieve
There is a general impression that the more a government spends on education, the better educated its citizens are. We have gone beyond the stage of success defined by the Education For All project and, as far as education is concerned, we have completed our obligations to the Millennium Development Goals. Education cannot be reduced to the bottom-line of literacy and numeracy for a society that wants to leap into a development model equal to that of the South East Asian Tigers.
What does the school do apart from this? Our curricula lack essential elements that will release the mind of our children and make them exploit their potential. Those who are successful in rising above the lot benefit from a privileged home that is conscious of the virtues of education, from exposure to a challenging environment, are given a wide variety of learning opportunities and are not text-bound, and are made to solve problem, negotiate their survival in a variety of circumstances. The rest are blind and dumb followers because their education is imitative, reproductive of knowledge that has been repeated ad infinitum. The average Mauritian is a selfish, insular, conforming follower lacking imagination and empathy. In fact, our schools cannot develop empathy and imagination in our children. Schooling is not just for cognitive development, but must include affective instruction. The best predictor of later social adjustment is the ability of the child to get along with peers. The ability to develop social competence in the child is critical. The training for empathy need not be included in the textbook. It should be viewed as an overwhelming objective which is attained through pedagogical and non-pedagogical activities. The average Mauritian teacher is a slave of the textbook. He subjugates his loyalty to the person by being overanxious about completing the syllabus in time. How much time is spent on children's literature is a mooty query. Very often the teacher skips songs, short stories to concentrate on grammar and activities that are tested at the end of the year. The teacher robs the child of his capacity to learn how to put himself in another person's situation and to think for that person.
Imagination skills help to play better with other children, to improve one's performance in studies, to be able to handle anger and other emotions better, to be happy and to be able to play alone and later to bear loneliness without anxiety. Our schools are far from being able to realise the importance of developing imagination skills. Our teachers may think that imagination is developed by writing essays. Nothing can be more frustrating than being taught by a generation of teachers who do not realise the wealth of talents a child possesses. An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six-year-old children. At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn't pay attention in school. In the drawing class she did. For more than twenty minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing. The teacher found this fascinating. Eventually, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." Surprised, the teacher said, "But nobody knows what God looks like." The girl said, "They will in a minute". The story shows how young children are wonderfully confident in their own imagination. Most of us lose it as we grow up.
What have all the ministers done about the teaching of Visual Art in Primary schools? Their pusillanimity and cowardice or lack of vision has made them cower down to the obstinacy of Union leaders who want to be paid more to teach Art when this subject is on the school timetable for upper Primary. Somehow the Pygmalion effect is very much present in the politics of education. So persuasive are unions that Ministers have run away with the idea that Visual Art is not important for Education. Is it not a shame that we are spending millions on an Enhancement Programme when all the ingredients of the EP are found in the existing curriculum? Teachers need the conviction and politicians need the courage to make them teach it.
Our schools are not the places where the Mauritian child learns critical thinking skills, analytical and entrepreneurial skills. The school has been created to equalise opportunities that the accident of birth has discriminated against the less fortunate. It is ironic that our schools tend to reproduce the divisions present in society in a state of nature in spite of the philanthropic motives of civilisation. In fact, our schools are the bureaucratic areas of our oppressive elite that wants to have it all alone. The basis of genuine teaching is interaction through which teacher and learner negotiate and share knowledge and meaning. In the absence of interaction only the best learner is the fortunate beneficiary. Those children who have conscious and alert parents are those who have an advantage before the race begins. Again civilisation's objectives are subverted by a traditional and archaic bureaucracy.
When education becomes a mere bureaucratic exercise it loses the quest for meaning. That is what produces a graduate who knows a lot of textbook Physics but cannot explain the principle of uncertainty, a student who knows Shakespeare but has never read any contemporary novel, who has a textbook view of reality and is a misfit in society.
Our education system is ploughing out thousands of mediocre citizens every year. Only a few emerge because they draw capital out of the advantages nature has invested them with.