Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Schools don't fit all learners?

The press and radio, as well as the general public, seem to think teaching is the same no matter what level of schooling teachers teach in. This couldn't be further from the truth.

A quick visit schools to observe would soon make differences obvious. For many students transferring to a secondary school is like visiting a foreign country.

At the junior level teachers create learning environments based on care and respect, present a range of learning challenges, monitor the progress of all their students and most importantly take responsibility for the same children for the whole day. At the secondary level everything changes. Teachers teach separate subjects in forty minute periods, students are often streamed and students have a number of different teachers to relate to in any one day.

This is a very different world for the students ( and would be for their teachers if they had to swap levels!). As a result many students, particularly those who struggle, fall through the cracks during this transition.

This does not have to be the case. Learners are learners at any age - the same principles apply. That the differences exist is simply because of a mix of unquestioned practices and habits, vested interests and the power of the status quo. Even teachers seem to be blind to the differences their students have to face up to and it is only recently that the Ministry of Education has become aware of the problem. Badly managed transitions are now recognized as contributing to the growing number of failing students.

What is required is a national conversation about the purpose of schooling in the twenty first century? What matters for the students at school? What attributes or competencies do students need to acquire to become life long learners? What is currently working well? What is not working well? What might be ideas to try out to improve the situation? The answers to these question would lead to some innovative suggestions. If the government really believed in direct democracy they should initiate such a conversation.

The press and radio might also take the lead in developing a climate for such changes rather than blaming teachers and schools as if they were all the same.

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