The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by Walter Edey
Honouring one’s heritage is generational. It is very hard work. But if institutionalised, the task becomes easier, and the rewards are greater. Many yesteryear Barbadian folk lived with a creative spirit and pride. They befriended adversity, inequality and lack.
They put established values and traditions to work – a sense of assurance, and insurance, inherited from the village, and the family. The late Irvine Burgie noticed that way of life and lifted it up. He made it a central point of focus in the national anthem. Strict guardians of heritage as well as firm craftsmen of fate was an inscribed national goal.
By becoming a guardian, you will safeguard the future of the nation’s richest heritage. You leave something of value for future generations. It is so written in stone that your people do not reinvent the wheel. By living as a “craftsman” you reclaim and renew your history, as art, as a skill.
Once upon a time, folk recycled residuals as a norm. Mothers saved shirt collars and buttons. Dressmakers sewed patch work sheets and saddle patches. Tinsmiths converted empty Ovaltine cans into cups for cocoa, the young at heart made rollers, scooters, kites, and made dolls and various forms of play. Young boys played soccer with young breadfruits and coconuts. That approach improved and enriched thinking and creative skills.
It did more. That responsible response to adversity gave students what educators call “prior knowledge”. Though informal, it was experiential. Though unorganised it was a secret sauce. It sweetened the formal colonial system. It was why some primary school students left school on a Friday. And, on Monday, they began a successful career as pupil teacher. At least one of them later founded an iconic nursery school.
Way back then, primary school students started learning math and science by happenstance. When they hopped off a bus and kept running. When they peeked into a pot of steaming rice; and when they milked a cow, saw a pig cut into segments. Or when manure and leaves rotted and made compost. How many students knew – or were told that they were learning friction, momentum, volcanoes? Or right angles, hexagons, gravity, worms, microbes, and technology?
The British teacher got all the praise. Worse yet, that important connection between the informal and formal is yet to be made. If it were so, experiential learning would be part of the system; and 70 per cent of the workforce would not be offered an academic pathway. Educators and policymakers are now scrambling for computers and internet links for students. Tools that were long overdue. Still, a computer cannot teach thinking or socialisation. It will only increase access to resources.
Montessori education is a self-directed activity and collaborative play. In a Montessori classroom students discover concepts through hands-on learning. Singapore’s students excel in international exams. For them, learning math begins with a doing activity. Teachers teach abstract ideas last not first.
Imagine, Barbadian teachers putting four lollipop sticks into the hands of students. Challenging them to make a kite, without a ruler to measure length. Without a protractor to measure an angle. Then drawing and making patterns. Writing stories about Easter and kite flying. Creating a portfolio assessment that would be part of their graduation and transfer. Add other projects. And can you imagine students wanting to stay away from school.
The island’s cupboards are bare. Merging informal and formal education practices will save money, reduce garbage and enrich student learning. The upside is that guided and discovery learning takes away teacher control. It requires leadership and mentoring skills. It transforms the responsibility of the learning to the student. It is like a racetrack, where cars are racing on different tracks, and speeds. It is the opposite of the plantation mindset.
Yesteryear folk left us their life stories. It is a heritage that shaped who and what they were. Activities connecting them to nature, which told them stories and lessons. Those folk were inventors, economists, and thinkers. They wore their labels of achievement on their sleeves and hands, not as plaques on the wall. This crude way of living was beautiful, it empowered them.
As educators and Barbados consider changes to the 11-plus exam, and education system, they should pause. They should explore Bajan life stories. Follow the example of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents. They trust the hand that God gave them. These simple folks did not complain or search a wishing well. Without guilt, regret, or resentment, many were guardians of their heritage and craftsmen of their fate. As external shocks fall, as thunderstorm rains, that heritage is a blessing in disguise.
Walter Edey is a retired math and science educator.