What exactly are the policy-makers trying to achieve in education these days?
By Kumbakonam S. Ramadurai
That is the question from me, and a host of friends, teachers and others that I have been in touch with.
Long ago in 1996, I wrote my first letter to The Compass about how joyful it was to be teaching in this rural town. The students were as young people were in those days — enthusiastic, adventurous and foolish at the same time, and capable of being happy with life’s basic motions in nature, family, friends, learning and sport. There was not much separation between person to person or between the young and the old in the community as a whole. Things were done by humans, using humans.
How naive that letter seems now!
Since then, our ever-growing cyber infrastructure has changed all that. It has since then given more power to the already powerful wealth-seeking corporations, with governments playing second fiddle necessarily.
Witness the proliferation of PPts (Power Points), DLs (Distance Learning), video-deliveries, webinars, computerized testing — in short, multi-media (with a minimum of human teachers).
As we know — or should — the origins of this corporate cyber-persona of education were from the United States and is spreading steadily in the other nations of the world in inverse proportion to their distance from the US.
Naturally, Canada is getting influenced strongly, and finally Newfoundland.
As a result, people are brain-washed to think of education as a commodity, teachers are viewed as paid brokers or facilitators, students expected to act as clients or consumers having the corresponding consumers’ rights.
The success of the present cyber-based business model of education is measured in terms of skills training and making professionals for job markets.
The joy of learning and obtaining knowledge for its own sake (Shakespeare, Gandhi, Einstein …) is not one of the parameters of cyber success-measure.
Computers are good in dealing with inhuman data (as they are bad in dealing with matters of the human heart and mind — like learning).
Education is not only for learning new things but also for inspiring personal growth. Personal growth involves developing discipline and understanding to enjoy life — nature, poetry, music, reading, conversing — along with inner strength to face personal and societal challenges.
Education should further enable the learner to contribute to the wellness of the whole community.
These cannot be accomplished by replacing teachers with multi-media procedures. A cyber-based business model of education does not understand such values. We need more teachers.
To compound the problem, the policy-makers have introduced new “freedoms” for the learners: they do not have to meet deadlines for homework, can do the tests when they feel “ready” or “would like to.”
How can students ever learn meeting deadlines that life is full of? How about the discipline needed to get serious things done on time? How can one get ready for the next step (e.g., chapter in mathematics) if the previous one has not been learned?
How about learning to control one’s emotions and other personal feelings detracting one from doing important things? How can one climb the learning curve if the steps needed can be postponed almost indefinitely? Will a hockey coach allow his students to do that?
It is in the hands of parents to communicate to the board policies that are beneficial and policies that are not beneficial for their children at school. They are the ones with common sense, are most concerned about the welfare of their children, and have the democratic power to express their wishes and concerns.
The teachers themselves do not officially say much these days because just like everyone else, they are also viewed as mere workers with well-defined job descriptions — giving opinions regarding education is not one of them.
Parents, speak to the board of education people and let them know what you would like to see happen and not happen in the schooling of your sons and daughters.
— Kumbakonam S. Ramadurai writes from Carbonear. He has taught mathematics and physics for some 35 years in three universities and two colleges, and has tutored numerous individual students in mathematics and physics at all levels.