Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Enlightened Education

Published in Trinidad Guardian • Reported in Trinidad Express
21 May 2005 • 832 words

Almost everyone would agree that our education system is failing badly. But, even if most concerned persons agree on what the problems are, they often disagree on the solutions. And, even if they agree on the solutions, they may disagree on the priority which should be given to various measures.

The TT Humanist Association does not pretend to have all the answers. Our contribution to the pedagogical debate is intended to clarify the issue since, as a group with a humanist perspective, we bring to the table no ideology but a reliance on evidence, no dogma save a belief in rational thought, and no bias except a commitment to compassion.

Let us begin with what is NOT our country's problem in respect to improving education: money and technical knowledge. However, in terms of expenditure, Trinidad and Tobago spends about four percent of its GDP on education, when the average rate in developed nations is seven percent. In terms of technical measures, our group has reviewed the Education Ministry's policy plans, and found most of its recommendations quite useful. Of these measures, we think priority should be given to continuous professional development for staff, developing a pool of substitute teachers, setting up student councils, and introducing peer counselling and mentoring. We note that only the first two measures listed here will require significant expenditure.

But good ideas are useless unless translated into action and, as in so many other areas of national life, implementation and attitude are our stumbling blocks. It is here that the education system must become the agent of its own change. Indeed, such a change, if effectively implemented, must within one generation lead to significant transformation of the entire society. So the challenge, in the first instance, is not pedagogical but political. It is up to the Education Ministry to implement those key changes which can lead to a transformation in attitude among both educators and their charges.

The TT Humanist Association proposes some relatively modest reforms which, we hope, will have a large impact on students in terms of the way they see the world and, therefore, how they conduct themselves when they become adults. These are our 10 core recommendations.

  1. Teach philosophy in schools, perhaps from as early as Standard Five but certainly no later than Form Three. The subject must be taught, not to provide answers to students about any of the large questions of existence and life, but to tell them what answers have been offered by the world's great minds and, more importantly, to guide students to seek answers for themselves.

  2. Tie teachers' salaries to educational level and professional development. As part of such professional standards, every school's staff must use one month of the long vacation for review, training, and planning as a body.

  3. Train teachers in Servol's Adolescent Development Programme and put it on the curricula of every secondary school. This subject could replace Religious Instruction, which at present is taught as propaganda, divides the student population, and is often anti-intellectual.

  4. Train teachers to cater to the learning biases of boys and girls. For example, boys are more visual and prefer to work in competitive groups, while girls are more verbal and prefer to work in cooperative groups.

  5. Sex education must start with nine- and ten-year-old students. This is the age when they can understand the facts, but are not yet old enough for their hormones to make the subject too emotionally-charged.

  6. Introduce measures and programmes to accommodate students who do not learn as fast as others. This is a feature of all the best education systems in the world, from Japan's to Finland's.

  7. Break up schools into units of 150 students or less. Research has shown that groups larger than this are unmanageable. This could be done through a house system or by appointing deans responsible for every unit, which would be run as a mini-school.

  8. Ensure students know what the school's rules are and the consequences of breaking these rules. Corporal punishment must never be one of these consequences. No effective school system anywhere in the world beats children to maintain discipline or to get them to learn.

  9. Since all children are guaranteed a place in secondary school, abolish the SEA. It is a waste of money, effort, and school time. Doing away with the SEA will allow teachers to educate rather than inculcate, and allow children to learn rather than cram.

  10. There should be formal collaboration between the Education Ministry and the School of Education in research. As our society changes, educational strategies will have to change too, and ongoing research is the only way of keeping the system relevant.

We are aware that none of these measures directly addresses the issue of indiscipline. This is because we think that, if such reforms are introduced, students will find school an interesting and comfortable place. This of itself will not solve all discipline problems, but it may well prevent fires.

See: TT Humanist : Views : Education : Global Extracts

See: TT Humanist : Forum : Opinions : Education

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