Monday, 5 September 2016

Change The Narrative: Let Us Empower Our Students

Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of genius of each. Plato
The job of an educator is quite challenging and requires much planning in order to effectively impact the 21st century learner. The issue of indiscipline in the education sector continues to plague policy makers as the search for meaningful intervention goes unabated. Sadly, the creation of a special position in the education system, that of, Dean of Discipline is a direct response of the disciplinary problems most if not all schools grapples with. Our boys are at particular risk and as such the intervention to save our boys should be a priority. 
Our male students need a firm hand regarding setting guidelines about issues concerning discipline. However, we must be careful not to crush the male intuitive sense of curiosity and their masculinity in our attempt to correct that which we deemed requires correction.  In education circles we tend not to speak enough about Social Emotional Learning to the deterrent of stakeholders. Social and Emotional Learning is a process whereby students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. Educators need to move towards an education system in which social and emotional skills are infused into the curriculum and which all students will be empowered to become involved in arriving at solutions rather than them being merely objects to be observed. Research has showed that much undesirable behavior, such as, drug abuse, violence, bullying and scamming can be prevented or reduced when educators take an integrated approach to develop and nurture students’ social and emotional skills.
 In too many instances the wayward behavior of our male students is linked to them not fully being engaged in the teaching and learning process. Educators need to mindful that the learning styles of boys differ from that of girls. Boys tend to require a more hands on approach to solidify their learning. The new National Standards Curriculum (NSC) to be implemented on a phased basis for the 2016/2017 academic year is a most welcome move. The National Standards Curriculum is more student-centered and has an emphasis on the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT). The new National Standards Curriculum is based on the 5 E’s of the 21st century learner. These are: engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration and evaluation. We need to move away from those practices which were ineffective for the learner of the 20th century.  The learner of the 21st century is one who must be engaged at all steps throughout the teaching and learning process in order to maximize student outcome. The 21st century learner is one who is engaged in a student-driven educational planning programme with avenues for exploration and explanation. Too many students, especially boys are falling through the cracks simply because they find school to be a dull and boring place. We are losing out on the creativity of our youth population if we just sit idly by and allow students to drop out of school; we need to change this narrative. We need to nurture a culture of differentiated instruction in order to reach all our students.  Professor Carol Ann Tomlinson, professor of educational leadership, foundations and policy, describes differentiated instruction as factoring students’ individual learning styles and levels of readiness first before designing a lesson plan.
Another critical area worthy of more exploration is that of seeing students as teachers. Yes, students can be viewed as teachers. Dennis Harper, an advocate for the student as a teacher and founder of Generation YES, developed a programme where by students instructed teachers how to use technology in their classroom. This collaboration between students and teachers creates a framework for the architecture of ownership of the learner. The Jamaica education system would certainly benefit from such a programme and would curtail the high dropout rate of our students, especially our boys. The new curriculum is intricately woven to embrace STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. These influential areas in education are where the jobs of the 21st century are to be found. STEM also provides a backdrop for problem solving, however, very much lacking as a skills set in the wider society. A culture of ownership by the learner will also have positive benefits regarding the reduction of violent incidents at schools. According to data from the Ministry of Education, between 2011 and 2013, a total of 1288 violent incidents were recorded in the nation’s schools.  A student who feels a sense of entitlement and attachment to his/her school is unlikely to engage in violent acts.  We need to build the human capacity of all our students; however, special emphasis must be placed on our boys. The Education Ministry needs to explore more the issue of male underachievement with the view of putting in place intervention measure to address this issue. Male underachievement is quite pervasive throughout the various levels of the education system and runs counter to sustainable development.       
In the words of Julie Dirksen, learning experiences are like journeys. The journey starts where the learning is now, and ends when the learner is successful.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.