Education system failing girls as well
Prof Rhoda Reddock analyses the budget's social protection programmes
Despite education and training receiving the largest slice of the 2012/2013 budget ($9 billion), the deputy principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) feels that for this heavy expenditure we should be getting better, more comprehensive results not only for individuals, but for the entire society.
"We really need to look at the quality of our education," said Prof Rhoda Reddock. "I think our education system is uneven and class-based. The poorest groups in the society who need the most support, the most facilities, they are not the ones getting this. So the education system basically reproduces the class and socio-economic structure."
Reddock believes our system is overly competitive, with too early specialisation and based primarily on examinations from very early ages. It does not ensure that all children, no matter what their socio-economic background, are allowed to perform at their best. For children, education should be enjoyable, engaging and stimulating. In the past, when there was less expenditure on education, and fewer people attended high school, our primary school system was much more robust, she believes. The levels of education of students who left that primary school system were in some respects better than many of those coming out of the secondary school system today.
"Many teachers in certain secondary schools have given up and don't bother to teach because the quality of students who have come from the primary schools is so poor that it's almost impossible to teach the syllabus," Prof Reddock said. They too need support and a new vision for education in the society. She pointed out that some teachers do not have much faith in the students' capacity, so they limit their expectations of the students, which results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. She calls on committed teachers to form an education NGO to educate the public, especially parents, and lobby for a new vision of education.
Although teacher education (especially focused at the primary levels) has been receiving increased attention at the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), the quality of teachers has to be improved. Primary school education needs to be revamped, she says, if secondary and tertiary level education systems are to perform at their best.
The early childhood education system is now one of the best-performing aspects of the system, she thinks, even though teachers are paid less than $3,000 a month. "I am proud to say that The Early Childhood Education Programme of the Faculty of Education at UWI contributed a lot to laying down standards for early childhood education across the country." However, she would like to see the university's education experts advising the Government about standards for a modern primary school education that truly enables and empowers all students and unleashes their full potential.
"We have 100 per cent secondary school access, which means that the Government pays for these children to go to school, plus pays for their exams. But yet, I think if we have 40 per cent who get five O-Levels that's a lot. If they didn't get five O-Levels but they got other things, we would be happy, but many of our young people leave school or drop out of school without critical skills and knowledge, without even the competencies to manoeuvre in the society. That is really missing. Something is seriously wrong with our education system despite the well-meaning efforts of some," she said sadly.
The effort to have all teachers obtain university degrees in education is important. Teachers also have to be motivated and to be responsible for all children. Prof Reddock says there is a notion in Trinidad and Tobago that some children are academically inclined and others are not. However, all children have the capacity to attain a minimum level of education, she stated. After that, we can have differentiation but a certain minimum level of education is required for all young people to become competent adults especially in today's complex world. "And most young people can achieve that," she insisted, "even those with social, economic or other challenges. We know today that disabled children generally, with the right opportunities, can perform much better than they are doing currently in our society, although we now have some inspiring examples."
Reddock, who was head of the Institute of Gender and Development Studies for a number of years, says with regard to crime, and boys' performance in school, "I do think there are a number of structural issues that are affecting boys' performance in education. We in Gender Studies have researched this, we have written about this, we have published this, but we really need the society to take this on seriously. We need the Gender Affairs Division of the Ministry to be working with the Ministry of Education to see how these issues can be dealt with. We need the Institute of Gender and Development Studies and the Social Policy, Social Work or Criminology programmes at UWI to be working with the Ministry of Social Development in their social programmes."
The education system is failing girls as well, contrary to popular belief, she emphasised. "Girls may be faring a bit better. It is true that generally girls are doing better than boys, but if you look at all the girls and all the boys and using examination results as an indicator, then, the majority of girls are also failing and we need to recognise that."
Today there is a general equation of education with certification i.e. successful education is getting a certificate or degree. This is inadequate and this has robbed education of its fuller meaning. Education is a tool of human and societal development and therefore a good education is imperative for the social, political, scientific, aesthetic and ethical development of any society.
An understanding of gender by parents, by policymakers and by our political leaders could go a long way toward understanding many of our social problems, especially crime and criminal violence. Many of the problems with criminality are gender issues, Prof Reddock pointed out.
—Look out for Part II tomorrow