An aspect of school education –– and by extension university learning –– being lamented more and more each day is what is described as a “curriculum . . . very academically inclined”, or indeed much too much so. These critics of “excess academic” input at our educational institutions swear this is the cause of the perceived incongruity between learning and making a living.
Among the most recent of these observers publicly expressing concern is human resources management specialist Ann Thompson of the Caribbean Development Bank. She sees a “[resultant] mismatch between school curricula and the demands of the economy”.
She espies “the inability” of said curricula “to address the needs of the range of abilities in the system”, as these curricula seem yet “to be geared towards addressing the needs of high-flyers”. There is perhaps a tad of validity for Ms Thompson’s apprehension, but are the “high dropout rates” at the secondary school level, “especially by males who appear not to be in tune with the curriculum being offered”, any true manifestation of frustration of not having an option of “non-academic” subjects equal in value, significance and benefit –– if not “status” –– to the much beleaguered “academic”?
There is this mythical notion that there exists an army of opposition, all geared and ready for an onset on technical and vocational education, a concept regrettably that Ms Thompson too holds. There are few things farther from reality than this.
The truth is, this undermining of the “academic” curriculum, in the name of “the improvement and expansion of the employability and labour market participation of young people, through an enhanced and decentralized technical and vocational educational system” –– a mouthful –– is likely to do injury to a youth’s body, mind and soul.
Whatever technical or vocational pursuits may interest our young will require some grounding in the “academic”. Information technology people must have a grasp of mathematics; so must draughtsmen; carpenters; joiners; road builders; plumbers; mechanics. We all need to be able to measure correctly, and count –– outside the ubiquitous calculator.
Tour operators and taxi drivers should be familiar with geography, at least of their country, and aware that north is up and south is down and not confuse the visitor with their directions. And if any of the other technical professionals above desire to seek out employment across the region, they need to be cognizant of the Caribbean’s geography.
Actually, Caribbean studies will be a must at school. We can’t dump the subject and yet be talking about CARICOM. Regional togetherness must rise above hooking up with a Caribbean soulmate.
A “foreign language” –– French or Spanish –– would certainly be an asset in the technical and vocational professions –– the benefits of which are plain to see when one travels the Caribbean.
Then, it wouldn’t hurt for a techy to know of the history of his country and of the region it falls in. He could easily follow historians Trevor Marshall and Sir Hilary Beckles and keep learning more –– without the exams.
Religious knowledge could instil spiritual values, familiarize our youth with Jesus, and get them to learn not to have the sun go down upon their wrath. And a fair study of civics might help them better understand the political
process and as a consequence choose more appropriate Members of Parliament.
Naturally, English will be a must. In all of the professions and undertakings above, the ability to speak standard English –– with proper grammar, pronunciation and clarity of thought –– will be paramount in all business communication. We are not demanding that they be a Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde or George Lamming; but they must be better than the Sarah Palins, and some of our politicians.
So, let’s not be side-tracked by all the attack on the “academic”. The knowledge above canont be exclusive to any “high-flyer”. Going to school is no status thing; it’s a learning experience.
We must take care we do not dumb down the full education of our youth by these innovative approaches to teaching. Teaching is still about passing on knowledge.
We are not oblivious of the other bewildering notion that education is not about the teacher imparting knowledge to the student, but a pursuit of the student in what he or she finds interesting and in his or her comfort zone.
Allied to this, of course, is teachers having to put their own development aside so that schoolwork is “relevant” to the students, and to the caprice of their “employability and labour market participation”.