Ian K Ramdhanie, msC,
There is no way to make a dent in the crime situation in T&T without seriously examining our education system. Schools must address the issues that are plaguing this country, and education must teach the values and skills that are necessary for students not only to succeed in this world, but also to feel connected to society. An effective education system must keep up with the shifting social and cultural landscape.
Students cannot be expected to buy into an education system that they perceive to be archaic and irrelevant. Schools must address the needs of all children on every socio-economic level.
There are many teachers who think outside of the box and consider their students’ and society’s needs, but the Ministry of Education should encourage all teachers to take a more creative approach to teaching by stressing the skills our students should master so that they can become successful, productive individuals who make positive contributions to society. Here are some of the issues that secondary level English classes should consider:
• 1. Problem: The CXC English language curriculum should not be based on boring textbooks filled with culturally irrelevant material that does not interest students.
Solution: Teachers should use Internet and newspaper articles as well as a wide variety of literature that Caribbean students can relate to in terms of theme or setting when they read.
• 2. Problem: CXC English literature is confined to a handful of prescribed literature mandated by the Caribbean Examination Council.
Solution: Allow teachers to choose literature from a long list of books. The American Advanced Placement (AP) English language and AP literature courses, which are equivalent to CAPE, allow teachers to choose any books that are deemed to have literary merit. Because the purpose of English literature is to teach students to have an appreciation of the elements of literature such as theme, conflict and characterisation, any competent student should be able to demonstrate an understanding of these elements by writing essays that apply to any book.
• 3. Problem: CXC English and CXC English literature classes do not stress enough reading. While reading novels is suggested in the CXC English language syllabus, it is not required.
Solution: The more students read, the more they are exposed to characters, conflicts and themes that they can relate to in their lives. Students in CXC English language and literature should be reading about one novel a month to build the reading, writing, communication and analytical skills students they need to succeed in school and in life.
• 4. Problem: Outdated and irrelevant material in textbooks and other literature does not lend itself to teaching the values that today’s students need to be taught.
Solution: Identify those values that we need to build in today’s society and allow teachers to choose literature that addresses these values and issues. These values include empathy, integrity, independence, collaboration, honesty, confidence, patience, perseverance and commitment. Teachers must be able to choose books with high interest/low reading level for students who struggle with reading.
Major problems the education system needs to address:
• 1. Anger. Problem: The Ministry of Education needs to address anger issues among teenagers.
Solution: Reading literature that addresses anger issues and discussing these issues in class are ways of providing a forum to recognise and deal with anger in schools.
• 2. Impulsivity. Problem: This push-button, instant messaging, click the channel-changing, cell phone culture does not teach young people to have the patience to consider the consequences of their actions. Teenagers act or react to situations rather than think through a problem. Our children’s world is about instant gratification and this does not lead to the value of earning something through hard work.
Solution: Impulsivity must be dealt with through discussion, literature and long-term assignments that are relevant to students’ lives while demonstrating the benefits of waiting for an outcome.
Suggestion: A long-term writing assignment in which students have to demonstrate language skills by writing letters to students in another school in T&T.
• 3. Poor listening skills. Problem: Listening skills have eroded to the point that students cannot obey simple commands like “Be quiet.” Listening skills are essential for personal and professional relationships.
Solution: Create more opportunities for listening using songs, old radio recordings and guest speakers.
Suggestion: Since nothing has meaning for students outside of a grade, reading aloud to students at all ages and giving oral quizzes would help to build those skills. Use well-timed Internet or newspaper articles or an interesting excerpt from a book.
• 4. Materialism. Problem: We live in a world that is becoming increasingly materialistic. Things matter more than people. The “things” that our children want become outdated quickly so it is an endless pressure to keep up with the latest products that are in vogue.
Solution: Every school should require community service projects that help students to understand the value of individuals, their community and their country.
The problems that we are seeing in T&T are rooted in society. We need to address these problems before they escalate into crime. The place to start is our schools—especially our English classes, which should be the foundation of communication.