Prince George is already fed up with school. Aren’t we all, writes Omeshnie Naidoo.
If I want to know something I google it. Don’t get me wrong, as a bursary recipient I would never be flippant about the value of education.
However, a human sciences degree or an honours in English is more life than lesson. I have reference and context that so many young people entering the workplace do not. (I know IT isn’t a new movie)
I’m not picking on education, just schools, and in particular, schooling systems.
Britain’s Prince George only began school in September - he is attending the exclusive Thomas’s School in Battersea, London - and his father, Prince William, is reported to have said, “I just dropped George off and he didn’t want to go.”
Vanity Fair reported last week: “Prince William told a fellow parent that the 4-year-old has only been a student for about three weeks, he is no longer psyched.”
South African children return to school on Monday - many with a similar sentiment.
My own little boy isn’t looking forward to 12 years of too much homework, nor am I keen on doing all his projects in-between work and dinner.
Our schools, public and private, have been lambasted in the media, and teachers for abusing pupils, being regularly absent from work and lacking basic knowledge about the subjects they teach.
Who could forget the research released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise in 2013 that showed South Africa’s Grade 6 maths teachers were at the bottom of the competency spectrum when compared with their peers in eight countries.
In the same year, Education Minister Angie Motshekga said South Africa had the highest rate of absenteeism in the Southern African Development Community (averaging 19 days a year per teacher).
Demotivated teachers are but one aspect of a dysfunctional structure. They are no doubt working within the parameters that have been set for them.
A perversion of statistics tell us matric pass rates have gone up but so have drop-out rates. And we know, based on unemployment, that after 12 years in the system many of our young people arrive at university or the workplace unprepared.
We’re told now a three-tiered school system will eventually see about 60 percent of pupils completing technical qualifications. For the time being my would-be scientist must still battle the languages and bullying while us parents learn the hard way that status schools are proving to be just that.
In January, the London-based publication The Economist claimed, “South Africa has one of the world’s worst education systems.”
The publication reported that South Africa ranked 75th out of 76, in a ranking table of education systems drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015.
Honestly speaking, the teachers I met when I was Prince George’s age are on my cellphone. I learnt more than maths and science from them. They built my confidence and shaped my world view, in a similar way to that of my parents. I’m eternally grateful.
A popular and indeed sacred verse I learnt in childhood, Guru brahma guru vishnu guru devo maheshvarah guru saakshaat parabrahma tasmai shree guru ve namah, suggests to me that a teacher is as good as God.
I googled it of course and found a more eloquent explanation.
According to hinduism.stackexchange.com, spiritual teacher Sri Swami Sivananda says in Guru Tattva, “The Guru is God Himself manifesting in a personal form to guide the aspirant.”
While my six-year-old is the theologian in our family, and I admit to knowing little on the subject, this is how I perceived my teachers.
Teaching remains the highest accolade but schools are increasingly irrelevant.
What has happened to the profession?
Some of the stories that parents, many with children in elite schools, share with me today suggest that our children are not thriving in these environments.
In an article for The Conversation, Sam Jones, associate professor in development economics at the University of Copenhagen, reports on research that states that most children in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are attending school but not all are learning.
Jones looks at findings from an initiative called Uwezo aimed at improving literacy and numeracy rates among children aged six to 16 in these countries.
In North America and western Europe they’re flipping the classroom. Pupils use technology to become familiar with complex concepts. Teachers use triggers such as video or Powerpoint to stimulate pupils. Learning shifts from group or class to individual and the process goes from a didactic or passive approach to teaching to pupil-centred learning. The concept, first called the inverted classroom, was coined in 2000.
Elaine Huber and Ashleigh Werner at the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning at the University of Technology Sydney did a review of the literature on flipping the Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) classroom in November last year.
They found 20 studies that described how pupil engagement had improved through use of the flipped approach.
Ten of these studies reported on the perceived value of interaction with peers, resources and teaching faculty which led to increased engagement.
Five studies detailed the face-to-face strategies such as in-class discussion and specifically working through problem solutions. However, some found that improved engagement did not always lead to improved achievement.
Self-efficacy - pupils positive about taking control of their learning - emerged as a theme.
CMRubinWorld, launched in 2010 to explore what kind of education would prepare pupils to succeed in a rapidly changing globalised world, recently asked The Global Teacher Bloggers what they would change about curricula.
Their answers focused on emotional intelligence and contemporary solutions.
They said school needed to be: more relevant, offering timeless skills, curricula based on passion projects, global and hyper-local curricula, curricula that go from classroom to boardroom and more.
“We need to develop a generation of critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, environmentalists and ethical IT users,” said Rashmi Kathuria (@rashkath) in India.
Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) said, “In previous centuries, students had to build their own Google. In other words, they learnt and built their own knowledge base.
“To expand their knowledge, they had to assemble a library and know how to find books in it. The focus was on learning. Now, it seems to be on finding. But it shouldn’t be. We need to teach people how to think.”
Teachers like Davis are talking about helping children deal with complex real-world problems:
“Let’s take them out into the community to observe, consult and brainstorm to make things better. If there’s a problem at school, let our in-house consultants (our pupils) tackle it with the advice of a great teacher.
“When pupils meet a problem they can’t Google, they must venture forth with teamwork, creativity, and tenacity - all things that they need to be successful. We let kids work problems in maths. They should “work problems” in every course, because life is full of problems seeking solutions.
“As teachers, we should watch and guide them as they explore and learn. Many times, real-world problems require teachers to play more of a consulting role. Incorporating real-world problems requires risk-taking and ingenuity to flex each year’s curriculum.
“You can’t standardise creativity, and therein lies a problem. Factory-like schools will get factory-like results with a pretty high failure rate. But individualising teachers and schools can help each child reach his or her own potential.
“Children are unique, so our approach to them must be unique as well.”
* Omeshnie Naidoo is national Family Editor, Lifestyle at Independent Media