Sunday, February 16, 2014

On the eve of the Teachers' Spring?

On the eve of the Teachers’ Spring? by Azly Rahman




“School-based assessment”, “Data-driven decision-making”, “Professional Learning Communities”, “Systems-based schooling”, “Authentic-based assessment”.

All these are nice words for Malaysian schools to have but alien to teachers driven to death by administrative work to even understand let alone enculturalise scientific thinking in teaching and learning and in managing student progress.

We have a society with scientific buzz-word and sloganism governing, but not yet a society whose members value scientific and rational thinking. That is why we have tribal practices in schools, of:

  • Magic pills administered for students taking tests;
  • Magic and miracle water drank to increase intelligence;
  • Strange sounding pills sold to enhance brain power;
  • Teachers punishing students to eat grass, asking them to go back to where they belong, and all kinds of methods used to punish children not skilled in memorising facts that will become obsolete.
What do the untrained teachers need?

Teachers are going into the teaching profession unprepared, ill-prepared, and not trained as an anthropologist of learning, psychologist of curious young minds, a politician able to do crowd control, and an actor able to juggle roles and interpret the script well without losing sense and sanity. Without all these they are set for failure.

Even worse, given the burden of work, un-mentored early years in the profession, inability to master subject matter that is constantly progressing and worse still confronted with a large class of children of the new millennium smarter than the teacher at times and hungry for inspiring teaching techniques, teachers often resort to strange techniques of “disciplining and punishing” all because “fight or flight” of the “reptilian brain” govern their daily practice.

These reactions are understandable when classes are huge, workload insurmountable, salary low, and communicated goals unclear. These teachers need help. They need professional as well as emotional help because their hopes about being a good teacher might have been destroyed by the system itself that runs on auto-pilot and at times self-destructive mode.

Who loses in this game of educating? Children

The losers will be a generation of children bored and their minds unchallenged and uninspired and after a number of years in this system of survival of the fittest in this world of learning, dread, and boredom set in, and there goes the meaning of the idea of education down the drain; the meaning of the Latin word ‘educare’, i.e. to draw out (the best of human potentials constantly) That is what children are subjected to.

We must revamp teacher education entirely with new premises, new paradigm, new modus operandi, new culture breathed in, new vision of a good society of good workers and citizens, new everything --  including the very idea of “what is a teacher” itself. When can we do this before two more generations are lost?

If the teachers need to be helped as such, what then should be the role of another partner in the education of the Malaysian child?

It should be one of partnership with the school - of smart partnership

My advice to parents are  these:
  • Train your child well before sending them off to school;
  • Teach them respect, ethics, and good manners and discipline; and
  • Train their minds to be disciplined with acquiring knowledge as well.
The school is not a babysitting place you drop your children off to be disciplined by teachers. They have better things to do - teach.

If half of the time is used to discipline your child or even your youngster, half of the joy of teaching is gone, half of the battle to make your children cleverer is lost.

This is a gentle reminder: teachers are not correctional officers in a glorified prison - they are noble people who will also manage virtue.

It is all a collaborative effort - taking a village to raise a child, your child.

To the Education Ministry we should all say this:

If you can spend many millions of dollars just writing up a blueprint, spend that much money to reduce class size to 20.You cannot continue to make the lives of teachers miserable and expect miracles. Education is not an act of enslaving teachers by making them burn out from day one.

Investing in the country's future through small learning communities - priceless.

Time after time, reform and new ideas are introduced to the school system without giving time for the old to prove their worth through long-term cumulative research findings and development of artifacts of learning and teaching to be developed and showcased.

This is a case of too many wines in too many new bottles maketh the teacher a drunken sailor.

A synthesis of workability

The best teaching techniques are the ones not necessarily transferred lock, stock, and barrel from faraway lands, just because they worked in those cultures.

The best are those in which the teachers and the techniques gradually harmonise into a synthesis of workability, of what worked best under different circumstances, with different student population, and ones that are constantly improved and refined and ultimately what the teachers have not only understood as best practice but have become one and inseparable with the teacher.

In essence, less is more, small is beautiful, one small step for a teacher is a giant step for the children.

I end my lamentation on ways to improve the state of teaching and learning entire by a reminder of the five C’s of education that need to be explored, enriched, embraced, and enculturalised by teachers with a certain level of mastery: “culture”,  “curriculum”, “classroom management”,  “communicative competence”  and lastly but most importantly, “common sense”.

There is still hope in making things better. Because education is about hope and love.


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