Nurturing Sheep?


During a meeting with secondary level teachers last week, two of them deplored the lowering of standards across the board, with much concern. Having children in different stages of their schooling has allowed to see how much the syllabi have changed over the years, and not for the better. Public schooling today has indeed become a matter of concern because it would seem that even if the child is at the center of preoccupations, the methods being approved by the authorities may not necessarily be conducive to a dynamic, learned population, willing to give back to the country.

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Every year, at national and international results announcement, a lot of talk centers on the quality, or lack thereof, of results and by extension of the student population graduating from the respective exams. But it seems that the underlying pressing issues are barely touched upon. The issue of credits at SC level remains the core of the matter for it reveals the real weaknesses of the system. A glance at statistics shows a gradual decline in the pass rates, still with girls surpassing boys. But the debate around the credit system to accede to HSC level is wrongly placed. The issue does not lie at SC level, that is but a symptom of earlier defective methods, which the Ministry should be aware, but still takes no remedial action.

A look at the methodology for primary level itself shows just how much the system is not designed to improve students, but rather keep them in mediocrity. The real issue of the decline in the local education system at government level lies in the automatic promotion in primary, from Grade 1 to Grade 6. This means that children who have not yet mastered numeracy and literacy are moved up, without having the chance to strengthen the very foundation of what constitutes education, namely the three Rs. Many teachers at secondary level have complained that they welcome students in Grade 7 who can barely write their names. How, in 2024 can a child who has not mastered writing his/her own name be allowed to reach such a higher level? This does not reflect on the child, but rather on a system designed to make a child believe that s/he is succeeding when in fact such is not the case.

If PSAC and NCE exams are anything to go by, it becomes very obvious that instead of making students work, and therefore develop a work ethic and discipline to achieve results, exams are set to meet the lower achievements of students, seemingly so that the Ministry does not lose face when it comes to statistics. But those with a wider vision can definitely see through and it is worrying. For example, people of my generation would remember how we were taught to answer in full sentences for language exams.

Today, this is not the case for neither PSAC nor NCE exams. How in the world are we supposed to nurture a reasonably well-articulated population when our children are not being taught to do so when they need to? Compounded with the fact that reading is a dwindling hobby among today’s youngsters who prefer short-term gratifications when it comes to hobbies, the problem will only increase. This is but one example. This is mostly reflected in recruitment. Talk to any person in recruitment or anyone of a certain generation dealing with new recruits and they will deplore the level of articulation and writing of the newly employed. Moreover, with the elimination of the translation portion in the French SC curriculum, things can only go downhill from here regarding the level of our education.

Conversations with teachers who are involved in corrections of national exams reveal that they are increasingly appalled each year with the marking sheet that they are given, and how they need to grade students. They do share that many who reach Academies may not be well prepared for Cambridge level, which is why they encourage children to put in efforts that are required at SC level as from NCE level itself, which was the norm some 20 years back. What kind of students are we nurturing? More importantly, what kind of next generation of leaders are we creating? It would seem that the government would rather have this two-tier education level widen.

The last budget included money allocated to the Ministry of Education for renovation and revamping of school infrastructure, and an income tax deduction for parents sending their children to private schools. While the government touts free education from pre-primary to tertiary, lowering the level, it is giving incentives for parents to consider private schooling.

We do need to ask ourselves the right questions here. What is the reasoning behind the provision of Rs2,000 school allowance to children aged 3-10 years when the services are supposedly free? Why can’t this courtesy be shifted to children aged 14-18 years, when the government stops giving free school materials, and when the cost of schooling rises? Why is the government subtly pushing towards private schooling? Why is it encouraging those who can, to pave the way for children of today, manpower of tomorrow, to reasonably seek greener pastures abroad, to avoid the future ambient slump of mediocrity? Why isn’t money being injected in the improvement of aforementioned free materials and teacher recruitment instead of cosmetic improvements? Why is the government hell-bent on widening the already existing divide between the public and private schooling population and more essentially, why isn’t the government partnering with private schools to improve the public system?

This might be the result of too many conspiracy theory-based book and article reading and movie-watching but one cannot help but see the shadow of a more sinister motive. We have, for long, denounced the lack of emphasis on critical thinking in our public educational system, which, despite its lacuna, used to be one of a certain standard, allowing us to be on par, if not on personal level but on academic level, with international peers. Today, critical thinking is very far behind if literacy itself is not being achieved. Combined with the “free gifts” of the government, ranging from allocations from conception to
free schooling all the way through, with a basic salary which might incite some to leave the academic world to join the workforce, we have to wonder whether there is an agenda of creating and nurturing sheep who will not be able to one day question the shenanigans of the leading powers, being under the thumb of getting things for free. With elections round the corner, and we are once more asked to make a choice between a rock and a hard place, the other side looks as grim, with its intent of lowering the criteria to 3 credits for accession to HSC level, and its legacy of “one graduate per family”, which yet again favours quantity over quality. One cannot help but wonder if our future will be as bleak as sheep’s bleating.

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