My beef springs from the insidious influence of consumerism on all aspects of our lives and interactions – especially in the formation of our young ones. Recent education policies have been lavishly portrayed as champions of “The Four R’s”. Yet in comparisons with global achievements we rank below a level expected of a successful economy. The cause, I feel, is that our policies lose sight of the true aims and objectives of an education.
Governments come in. And, someone who has been an expert diplomat or economist is suddenly expected to become an educator too! Regardless of high achievements in well recognised institutions, this is a big ask of anyone. True, highly competent public servants prepare great background papers and “summaries” for the busy politician who tries to cram in essential bits of data and information. But, I beg the question, how much of his/her heart can be in the “spirit” of things, when political ideologies and requirements of the exchequer set the priorities on the mission? Deftly, a “white paper” may be ordered, snapshots of the perceived condition of the system prepared, and a dignitary appointed to make an inquiry and to draft a blue print for the recovery. Once the scapegoats and responsibilities are annunciated, the government goes about the business of dismantling the edifice its predecessor put up at great public cost and effort. Baby and the bathwater are thrown out before the old order can put out the first buds of its justification. It is an old adage of politicians: “It is not enough to do something; but one must be seen to it”.
Policy in place, the education department bins the mountains of fact sheets, files and red-tape to make room for the new. Old heads give cynical nods having seen this cycle of enthusiasm, effort, and inertia before. All sections must defer to the head who must obey the political master. The attitude seems to be, “Guardians and pupils, of corse they matter, but this is policy!” The Grand plan, syllabus, and the full gamut of educational re-think are rolled out and the heads of schools asked to obey. Cash-strapped institutions accept the carrot of funding and implement the newly inspired edits.
Schools are known to trumpet the cause and even boast of their compliances and high achievements under the regime. Some institutions, challenged by the expectations, introduce creative ways to improve their image. Eventually, they pat themselves on their collective backs on having ticked off all boxes appropriately. Where, a child is considered falling back from the pack, a diary note or missive is sent to the parents suggesting the child’s inability to cope. Anxious parents run to the school to seek direction and solutions for an apparent catastrophe. In any case it seems that the parents or the child are to blame.
The guilt-filled parents clutch at straws to redeem themselves. Unable to help the child themselves, despite the crushing burden of schools fees, parents engage multiple private tuitions to improve the test results. Carrots are dangled in front of them by ways of scholarships and admissions to premium universities and courses. Bread and butter, nay, social standing are at stake.
The child, who should be the prime consideration of all the above concerted efforts, remains in limbo. The system setup to help children to develop themselves fully as human beings and productive members of the community, seems remote and insensitive. The schools, more interested in balancing their books and their own civic reputations, will not accept responsibility for the individual student. Gone are the days when teachers were revered – the situation just accepted as another victim of change. We seem to forget that those were the teachers who were willing to take responsibility for each and every student’s progress. Principals would go out with the school teams to cheer them on when playing away games. Teachers, after spending precious time with their students at school would take home loads of work for corrections – to mention but a few ways in which teachers, through their dedication and loyalty to their students, became objects of endearment.
The products of education are more than cogs in an impersonal economic world. Their aspirations should not limit them to becoming successful doctors, lawyers, successful entrepreneurs. There are but eight working hours in a day. One is required to be more than just a professional for the balance of the day. Then, without developing basic social and cultural skills how does one adapt to a life after Work?