For the last seven years of my teaching career, I have seen our education system occupying center stage for betterment. I have also witnessed the society deriving hasty generalizations about teachers, when someone from the education fraternity breaches teacher’s code of conduct and appears in the spotlight. During such a turbulent journey of teaching life, a sense of shame and guilt would always linger with me. But I walked proudly as a teacher because my conscience is my highest authority.
The views expressed here are based on my experiences and not intended to offend any individual or institution.
One of the recommendations of the recent report of Bhutan’s PISA-D is that schools should enhance students’ reading and comprehension skills to improve their academic performance across subjects. This is a hard call for the education family. It questions our seriousness of having reading days or periods. It also questions teachers’ own reading habits. I find no logic to persuade students to adopt the reading habit, when teachers themselves hardly read for their own personal growth. It is by virtue of this conventional effort, we fail to encourage our children to read books. If teachers put the right effort to read genuinely in front of students, they would also adopt the right effort to read.
In every language paper, starting from class IV, we have an unseen essay to check our children’s comprehension ability. There is a curious paradox in the way we assess their skill. For example, a question that demands pupils to express in their own words would have an answer that is copied from the passage. And, interestingly the evaluator without a second thought award full marks. This minor mistake will have severe implications.
According to the statistics released by Royal Bhutan Police in Kuensel, dated March 22, 2019, our youth constitute the biggest number among criminal offenders. It provokes us to think whether we produce people only with grade completion certificates or good human beings from schools. How effective are our life skills and value education programmes in schools? The focus to help children grow into better human beings is less prioritised than our effort to produce best academic results. The development of emotional intelligence and moral attitude is often sidelined. We always emphasise on enhancing cognitive ability of our children. I feel the cognitive and emotional intelligence development of a child must go parallel. Our children are unaware of the emotional first aid.
The leader of a school requires teachers to produce top academic results as if all learners possess the same learning ability. The teachers then work under pressure because it is reflected in IWP as wished by the principal. Now, this system has created a ground for lots of malpractices. The current practice overshadows our effort to encourage pupils to discover their innate potential. We forget to take into account what unique ability each child has. The gravity of compliments, an artistic child receives from teachers, would be far less than a child, who could solve math problems. And, that’s the way we define intelligence in schools. I do not think this fosters a spirit of equality in schools. We sometimes become so illogical that we compare one child to another and label with derogatory names and phrases.
The way we check learners’ understanding is constantly on a surface level. Students learn without understanding. The fact that many pupils can recite e=mc2 does not mean that they understand Einstein’s theory of relativity well enough to explain it or use it. I think learning with understanding has occurred when students can successfully apply what they have learned in a new situation. Today in an age of standardized testing, students are spending more time learning how to fill in a circle with a pencil and less time learning skills that might help them get by and get ahead in life.
We also need to rethink the way we impart values in schools. For instance, eating junk foods is strictly prohibited in the school compound. Students dare not to eat or bring because punitive measures are in place to tackle problems associated with such nutrition less foods. However, this practice has instilled values for a brief period of time. Our children develop a mindset to keep school as the only clean place. Once, out of the school premises, they rush to eat and litter other places. The values we teach in schools do not penetrate into their conscious level.
A critical factor to influence a school environment is the quality of leadership. A leader that can break or make a school. I have seen a newly recruited teacher work with great passion and enthusiasm initially but after few years the intensity of interest and commitment begins to wane. It is here where a principal can play a crucial role to fill this gap and encourage teachers to keep up the same momentum. But sometimes things would derail. Today, in 21st century, a school can function effectively by creating networks and building collaborations with other stakeholders and institutions instead of making excuses of not having sufficient budget in schools.
There are two reasons, I see, when most teachers apply for school leadership position: either they have best leadership qualities or they want to skip the teaching workload. Only exceptional leaders would make best schools. If we have, what psychologist Jim Collins calls as Level 5 leadership in schools, teachers would always love to work under such principals. The five attributes I deem a school leader should possess are growth mind set, farsighted, dynamic, high cognitive ability and emotionally intelligent.
If we can give a pause and reflect and try doing things little differently, students would innately love to come to school. I cannot expect to raise my own kids the way I was brought up because they were born in different times.
M. Ed student (Biology) Istyear, SCoE