Managing the daily activities of a school is all-consuming; there is too little time for strategic planning. But that is what is needed most right now – to envision and craft the future of education. Simply, we must evolve from the traditional we accept comfortably to what we KNOW it needs to be. COVID-19 has thrust this upon us. It is no longer a case of WHEN, but of NOW! We cannot continue as if ‘normal’ will resume and thank heavens for that, because ‘normal’ was not particularly good. It was barely adequate, if we are to be honest.
I play a leading role in Careers Guidance at my school and the research is clear. The world our children and their descendants will inhabit is going to be very different from ours. Funnily enough, students, without knowing it, have been telling us this for almost a decade. Proof for me has been the CSEC choices students have wished to make, but have been unable to do so, because of the choice ‘Bands’ schools in Barbados offer at Form 4. Their subject choices are convenient for staffing and timetables, but are not in the students’ best interests, or those of future careers.
Several years ago, students started choosing (because my school offers Open Choices) subjects that seem disconnected. An example would be, in addition to the Cores of Maths and English: Physics, History, Spanish, Business, PE and Food and Nutrition.
Parents respond by saying, ‘What are you going to do with THAT combination?’ Parents see disparate choices as a poor foundation for a traditional career path. They are correct. However, traditional career paths are over. The way I picture this in my mind, is that parents and traditional school systems are still paddling a boat on an underground river to the only destination they know: the past. A dead end.
Meanwhile, students are all aboard a bullet train, on the land above, to a future destination which those below the surface cannot imagine, and are ignoring. Bravely, our children are excited that while their terminus is unknown, they want it, whatever it may be. We keep trying to drag them down to our river, but they vehemently reject it by disengaging in learning – and they will not join us.
Change has to happen, and it must be us who change. So what should our school system do to prepare our children for their future?
Let’s start with extending the Core subjects from Primary level to include Computer Studies (including robotics, coding, programming and digital literacy), Environmental Management (including Agriculture and Marine Studies) and Mandarin. Let’s make Literature (the greatest of all critical thinking subjects) and Global Perspectives mandatory from age eight, and we must include the rudiments of Philosophy, Psychology and Ethics. Let’s embrace Non-Verbal Reasoning as a major component in Maths and Verbal Reasoning in English is a necessity. Both of these subjects are based on PATTERNS, through which connections are understood, internalised and applied.
Let’s make Art a major player at ALL academic levels – the world needs us to nurture creative and kinesthetic thinkers. But this subject must merge Autocad with drawing skills, model building, design and videography with technical editing skills. We must cultivate global thinkers who are problem solvers and creatives. Experience leads to mistakes; mistakes produce solutions.
We must rethink the curriculum and we absolutely must remove the 11-Plus examination so that we have time to focus on all the above. We need time to allow our students to learn HOW to THINK, to collaborate on Projects and develop social, multi-disciplinary skills; to solve problems through looking at them differently and to grow into their strengths, while finding their voices and their joy.
The time of read, remember, regurgitate, copy and write are over as academic tools. Yes, these are necessary abilities but they need to be integrated; not the SOLE focus of learning. Right now, we are giving our children Galileo’s spyglass and expecting them to be excited by it. NO! They need us to give them James Webb’s Space Telescope, so that they crave to build something even more powerful.
We must LISTEN to their dissatisfaction and step up to the plate. It’s education’s responsibility to provide students with what they need for their future – and truly, it is not hard to do so. In Barbados, we have two challenges: money and a paradigm shift. The fact is, the faster we can shift on both levels, the quicker this island will grow in global relevance. We, as a nation, have a choice RIGHT NOW (and there is no better time): change or cease to develop.
So, let’s stop all the ridiculous pride and embrace vision and industry. Bajans boast that we have 98 per cent literacy – meaning that 98 per cent of our population can read to the age of an eight-year-old. Let’s stop saying we have an excellent educational system. Barbados isn’t even in the top seventy. You’d be amazed at who is higher than we are. So let’s stop kidding ourselves and start forging ahead.
The time for excuses has expired.
Julia Hanschell can be reached at [email protected]