Monday, January 22, 2018

Addressing deficiencies in education system


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Part 2

I shall correct an error in my last article. Teachers are entitled to 14 days casual leave (which may be taken during term time) and not 28 as I had stated. I apologise for the misstatement. I had in mind that the 14 days may be taken half day at a time and to take a half day from school is disruptive of the whole day's work especially if it is taken in the morning! I still maintain that the Government should negotiate with the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers' Association (TTUTA) to increase salaries and remove the casual leave. If a teacher has an urgent problem then arrangements should be made by the principal for the class to be supervised in some other way. It should be made illegal for a class in any school at any time to be without the supervision of a teacher since to do otherwise is to short change our children's learning and to place them in physical danger.

I shall now discuss the other important issues raised in my last article: school and classroom design and numeracy and literacy.

Announcements by the Minister of Education indicate that a number of new schools are to be built particularly to replace existing buildings that can no longer be repaired. Thus there is an opportunity to build schools that allow for modern teaching methods; have facilities for new subjects on the curriculum such as the performing arts; and which have lunchrooms. Some of the structures now used as Primary schools have to be seen to be believed. There are still some schools that consist of one long rectangular room with the "class rooms" separated only by chalkboards. The pupils at the end of one class hear the teacher from the adjacent class as well as the teacher from their own class. The Principal of a secondary school on seeing one such arrangement said to me: If you had attended that school you would not have achieved the educational level that you are at today.

Even assuming that such schools are the exception how many schools are designed to further modern concepts of education?

Recently the Education Discussion Group (EDG), in collaboration with the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago, held a symposium on school and classroom design. A summary report on this symposium is available from the EDG. The symposium was well attended by architects and educators, including officials from the Ministry of Education. A presentation by Mr Gary Turton of the Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Architects on "Stimulating Learning Environments" recommended for introductory reading an article in the journal Scientific American entitled: "How room design affects your work and mood". I retrieved this article through "Google" and again found this interesting reading. Not only the design but the colours in which the room is painted affects work performance. I wonder if such factors are considered in the building of our schools.

The external environment (open spaces around the school) and the flow of student traffic into and within the school are also of importance. For example I understand that the Woodbrook Secondary school is to be rebuilt on the same site which is greatly congested.

Another aspect of school design to which I call attention at every opportunity is the provision of lunchrooms. Very few of our schools have such facilities and arrangements for "sit at table" lunches. All the schools that I have visited in developed countries (or that I have seen in movies or documentaries) have such facilities and eating of lunches in lunch rooms is compulsory. Such arrangements help to teach discipline and etiquette which is now on the curriculum.

Modern teaching methods demand suitable architectural arrangements. Government should arrange competitions with million dollar prizes (if we do this for our culture why can we not do it for the most important aspect of our social arrangements-education of our children?) for school designs for pre-school, primary and secondary schools.

I am convinced that one of the most important issues in our high crime rate is the fact that a significant number of our young males are leaving school being functionary illiterate. This situation leads to gang membership to achieve self-esteem since with such membership the ability to use a firearm is more important than being able to read and deal with any complexity of numbers.

I was heartened recently to hear the Commissioner of Police stressing the importance of social factors in crime-fighting. Regrettably I did not hear him discuss schooling. I blame the present state of numeracy and literacy on a well intentioned decision in 2000 to place all children in secondary schools despite poor grades in what was then referred to as the 11-plus examination. Prior to that time such children went into post-primary classes in the primary schools where there was remedial teaching. When the decision was taken to place all children into secondary schools the post- primary classes should have been replaced by remedial classes in the secondary schools. This was not done and so a number of children go through secondary school not being able to read, write or deal with numbers. They are sent to the back of the class so as not to keep back the other pupils. So I place some of the blame for our present high crime rate on that decision. This problem will continue to exist until all primary schools attain high standards.

Why do not our universities (we now have four operating at postgraduate level) research the social factors, including education, affecting crime to point the way to an effective long term solution to the crime problem?

There are many deficiencies in our education system and I have discussed only a few in these two articles. I selected these because they are not usually discussed in spite of the important role they play in our education system.

John Spence is professor emeritus, UWI. He also served as an independent senator.