Pandora’s box in education
Professor Ramesh Deosaran Sunday, July 1 2012
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SNACK TIME: These children from the All in One Child Development Centre wait patiently for snacks after a key handing over ceremony hosted by the Hous...
PANDORA’S BOX. The Oxford Dictionary says “it is a process that once activated will generate many unmanageable problems.” And today’s quest for teaching “values” presents a Pandora’s Box. For many years now, the authorities have expressed pleasure at expanding enrolment at secondary schools, but attracting serious concerns over the extent to which such numerical expansion has affected the quality of student performance and character. Of course, “leaving no child behind” is good policy when it comes to getting them in a school, any school it seemed.
But the quality issue, furiously debated in the 80s, is raising its head once again, not merely on examination passes, but in student character and “moral” values with educators and religious leaders heavily pronouncing on the moral deficiencies of today’s schooling. It is becoming a fundamental matter for educational policy, especially as it is seen related to academic achievement, school violence and delinquency.
Now there have always been sharp questions over whether teaching “values” can be effectively taught so as to lead to “good” behaviour, especially in an environment where the prevailing habits, the culture, in which such teaching occurs, are all contrary to what is taught in schools. No wonder Archbishop Joseph Harris felt obliged two weeks ago to say: “You teach best by example, not by teaching.” Archbishop Harris and several other denominational boards are now expressing concerns over the “moral” character of teachers and students
This matter of emphasising numbers, that is quantity, way and above the firm requirement for quality in student output, has long haunted the educational system of this country. And the well-known challenge for quality education, and a level playing field as it were, across secondary schools has been repeatedly noticed but left as the dreaded Pandora’s Box.
The denominational boards are fervently intent on preserving their “prestige schools,” a disposition strengthened by the court’s confirmation of their property rights. One of the intimidating questions over educational inequality is how to strengthen the weak without weakening the strong — a question strongly linked to a mixture of parents’ choice and student performance. In this, the boards claim the “moral” advantage.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, opening a Character Education and Citizenry Development Programme, said: “Character education teaches children from a young age, the value of ethics and morals in deciding how to react and face interactions with their families, neighbours, teachers and their friends.” This is the Pandora’s Box.
The Prime Minister, noting the increase in school violence and bullying, added: “This in itself is a demonstration of how young people, without a firm grounding in values, respect and appreciation for self-worth, as well as the self-worth of others, can actually cause mental and emotional harm to each other.” So there are two fundamental issues facing the education system today. One, the competition in getting into “prestige” schools with or without an expanded SEA exam. Two, the “need” for moral and spiritual values. And in a proportional sense, the two issues are related within Pandora’s Box.
Then Education Minister Dr Tim Gopeesingh himself confidently exhorted: “Character education is the future of education.” Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) Secretary-General, Satnarine Maharaj, felt more secure when he told the media: “Character is nothing new to denominational schools. Pupils in primary denominational schools were already given a well-rounded education, as a high degree of emphasis was placed on morals and values.” And he took pride in saying that “for this reason many parents are now rushing to place their children in Maha Sabha schools.”
Which brings us to the distinction which parents loudly make between denominational and the other “government” schools. Two Mondays ago, during the controversy over moving students from Pt Cumana RC Primary School to the nearby Government Primary School, parents of children from the Catholic school strongly protested. A major reason was expressed by parent Simone Francis when she exclaimed: “My two boys not staying in this (Gov’t) school. My oldest boy passed for QRC and this is because of the high standards at the RC school. I am not risking my two sons’ futures by letting teachers from the Government School teach them!”
Ms Francis then made the fatal remark: “The Government school teachers have a lower pass rate than teachers from the RC school. I will move my children to another school before I let this happen.” What a blow to government schools! The PTA president of the Cumana RC school added: “We are not supporting this move because under the Catholic system, the children have been performing.” And so, even with all his good intentions, Minister Gopeesingh quickly and unexpectedly found himself between a rock and a hard place. Squarely facing the Pandora’s Box.