“If you think you are too small to matter, try spending the night with a mosquito.”
After the most challenging school term of my career, I have found myself dwelling on examining solutions to the myriad of problems in our education system.
The ‘big picture’, for me, is that schools have a duty to prepare students for the world of their future. We must have a national plan guiding education that will catapult our island forward into the next century where we become a relevant force in global industries yet to be created.
I am genuinely concerned about the authenticity and significance of what we teach and how we teach it. As Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of minds to think.”
And let’s stop bragging about a national 98 per cent literacy rate. Literacy is measured globally at an eight-year-olds’ reading level. No maths, no comprehension, no creative problem solving, no higher-order thinking.
What has become crystal clear in the last decade is that even the most cognitively able students are not being taught to think. With the archaic practice of ‘Read, Write, Recall, Repeat’, most of our students are blissfully unaware of what is happening in the world and how these events relate to, and will impact them.
I often refer to the Butterfly Effect. I distinctly recall the day that the Hon. Sandra Husbands explained this to my students. How a supermarket worker, damaging a tub of margarine while packing a cooler, could, in effect, cause the demise of the entire company and the fortunes of the conglomerate that owned the supermarket chain. Individual job security effectively starts with a tub of margarine.
This is the kind of thinking that students must be exposed to, thereby realizing the impact of the smallest choice they make, or those they fail to make.
However, this problem is inherited. Students today have parents who are themselves the product of an antiquated educational system, where the ‘right school’ on their resume implies ‘well educated’. This is the ultimate lie we can propagate in 2020.
The greatest irony in an island where schools are not digitized is that we must prepare our students for the digital economy that is the future of small countries like ours. So the ‘big picture’ takes us immediately to the most basic, single problem we have in Barbados: the digital divide.
“Education has been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with 1.53 billion learners out of school and 184 country-wide school closures, impacting 87.6 per cent of the world’s total enrolled learners.” (www.educationcannotwait.org)
“Underprivileged individuals are more likely to be disproportionately affected in their studies during the pandemic… as they lack the essential technological equipment and adequate internet connectivity to pursue their studies at home.” (https://leidenlawblog.nl/)
However, access to technology, to a great extent, has been solved through donations. Students’ use of technology is the REAL problem.
So whose responsibility is it to force students to connect? Perhaps this is why there is so much finger- pointing between teachers and parents, and the cry of, ‘It’s YOUR job, not mine’. The truth is, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It is now everyone’s job.
Writing in a report, ‘Tommy must focus more’ or ‘greater effort is needed’, is unacceptable. What can a parent do? Sit with the child in a classroom? No, it is the teacher’s duty to ensure that learning happens in a way that the student wants to engage.
Yet, with children at home, connecting is now (and likely to remain) the parent’s obligation – to ensure that their child accesses and attends learning through their device. It’s incredibly hard work to supervise children, but an adult has to do it.
I have seen both sides of the coin. An underprivileged child who has no supervision because the parent equates access to technology with automatic learning. And I have had a professional parent refuse to supervise their child, saying it was not their job to get their child to log on. Caught in the middle of this is the teacher, doing his or her best to actually teach or the one who is so demotivated they disengage from even caring. Have we lost ‘the village’?
What is certain, is that a paradigm shift has to happen because ‘free’ education cannot continue without a return on investment; this fiscal hemorrhage will result in an inestimable loss in potential intellectual and technological capitol.
So, what do we do with this huge problem on our hands? We must create a plan and put protocols in place on an individual school level. Leadership is key; every school has within it official leaders and influencers who can supervise the plan, constantly managing and adapting. We must hold those who control outcomes, accountable – leaders, parents, students and teachers. As with everything, communication and collaboration are key. Parents and teachers need to re-think their alliance because lives are at stake and ultimately, the future of our island.
We need the village to wake up from its apathy and attitude of entitlement. Education is everyone’s business and “If you think you are too small to matter, try spending the night with a mosquito.”
Julia Hanschell can be contacted at [email protected]
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