Educational Reform: What Are the Kids Learning?


Bhoomika Ghaghada Career ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

We pay thousands to ensure that our children are enrolled in the ‘best’ educational institutions, receiving instructions from a faculty that is knowledgeable and skilled to teach children.

We expect the school to nurture our children’s ability to communicate, help them understand and deal with complex subjects, encourage them to apply this knowledge to years of further studies, and eventually, enable them to make a living.

The standards to which we hold our schools are outdated, and worse, falling consistently. Issues go un-addressed, the enquiries of students unacknowledged and the attitude of a growing number of teachers [not all] moving starkly towards indifference.

I can’t help but feel disappointed at the sharp decline in both, the quality of education, and the attention we’re paying to men and women of the future.

Let’s look at some of the common issues voiced in social circles amongst parents regarding  schools in the U.A.E [if not all around the world]:

1. 7 projects a month for a 3rd grader?

Are you kidding us? We do not object to the wonderful touch of application that children are allowed with projects, but are they specifically designed for children of Grade 3? Let’s get real. With projects full of intricate details, the workload rolls over to the parents.

Working parents have a hard time dedicating a few hours every day to help [or often complete] their children’s school project.

Why not give the students brief instructions on how to complete the assignment, instead of leaving it to them, or their parents, to figure it out?

IN-CLASS assignments. And no, you don’t get to say there’s no time. Make time.

Courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.

2. Do you want our kids to stop going to private tutors? Improve your in-class teaching tools!

Isn’t it ridiculous that we pay for school tuition and additional fees for private tuition? Is it so difficult to imagine that a huge number of school students are going to tutors because school teachers aren’t doing their job well enough? Or are the majority of school-goers simply slow learners?

Funny how today, even the smartest students are pressured into taking tuitions, which they wouldn’t need if their teachers did a decent job in the classroom. In my opinion, it is the teacher’s responsibility [along with the child’s effort, of course] to ensure that every child has a thorough understanding of topics covered in class, without outside help [This also has to do with the number of students per classroom where structural changes are required].

The laissez-faire attitude of some teachers [again, not all] can be corrected through regular [real] and fair inspections every 2 weeks.

Additional note: Ensure that the teacher you are hiring for the job is qualified to, both, teach [trained to educate] and teach that particular subject [knowledgeable about the subject she/he is teaching].

Courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.

3. What is with the emphasis on topping the Gulf?

Let’s make this clear: The evaluation of a school being an excellent institution depends on the overall average of all the students, and not on that single school student who topped the nation. Why are teachers biased towards the highest scoring students in class?

Instead, I suggest special emphasis be placed on students who take time to retain information [while still encouraging the high-scorers]. These unfavorable students are sent for counselling at school, while teachers blatantly ignore their queries in class. Is this a good method to improve a child’s capabilities or even confidence? Which brings me to my next point..

4. There’s a reason most parents do not like PTAs.

In my personal experience, I was astounded to see how many teachers whipped out a mark sheet at a Parent-Teacher conference to show me how well my brother or sister was doing compared to the class topper.

Comparing them to the highest ranker is doing two brutal things at once: lowering their self-esteem and taking focus away from their individual improvement. Why not show me their grades over the semester to see if there has been an improvement? I asked my siblings whether they were being given constructive criticism in class; they weren’t.

Courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.

5. No, the children are not attention deficient; they are simply tuned differently.

Why do you think I’d rather spend 24 hours watching Neil Tyson on Cosmos than spend half an hour in a Physics lecture at school? [I’ve learned more with Cosmos] Their brains [and ours] are being stimulated faster and their attention higher because of the exciting format of information on TV and the web. I’m in that weird gap in the middle, where I share your curiosity about the next generation’s behavior.

We can fight it all we want, teachers and parents, but let’s be realistic: this is where the world is heading. It’s getting faster, more visual, less text heavy and up-to-date to the millisecond.

So, is it surprising that a child who is used to looking at 6 different videos in 6 minutes is going to be bored when a teacher inanimately drones on about rulers that once lived?

We’re not asking you to dumb the syllabi down; we’re suggesting you make it smarter, more applicable and updated. Keep up! Make the class entertaining, interactive and have discussions. There are so many innovative ways to do this: in-class demonstrations, role-playing, making cartoons and using humor.

Additional note: Teachers need to know the latest in their fields. Keep up.

6. Empathy and Mentorship.

Mentorship’ is not a word we hear often, until we get to University and I think we should. Evidence shows that there are a lot of advantages to having a mentor. Personally, I’ve experienced that a mentor can not only motivate you professionally, but can help you grow as a human being. More teachers need to take this approach and use love, instead of fear, as a motivator.

It isn’t in your job description, but the admiration you receive as a mentor isn’t in your pay-check either.

Be available when students have questions. Educate yourself to help them with steps after high school graduation. I see so many 12th graders scrambling for help, confused and direction-less.

Instead of solely focusing on grades, focus on wholesome development. Show students some empathy and encourage them to have long-term goals. Inspire them to take on internships and act on their passions.

Courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.

7. Children are not computers.

I never liked this while I was at school, and my opinion hasn’t changed since. Information is now readily available [via almighty Google].

In an age with cell phones, wireless internet and laptops in every home, we don’t need the child to memorize textbooks word for word [never did].

I wonder.. How is that going to help them get smarter? What about critical thinking abilities? For that matter, what about thinking abilities? Every subject apart from those that employ Math or Science are treated as chunks of information to be digested by students and puked out on a paper at exams.

Why not utilize the brilliant invention of the internet in classrooms? Creativity is rampant online; there’s a joke for every historical event that ever occurred and a video/cartoon/animation that makes your point clearly. Remember: Memorization is not the only skill worth honing, which is one of the reasons why I think the syllabi and grading system desperately need changing.

Courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.

8. The syllabi and grading system desperately need changing.

The basics of science [Gravity keeps us grounded and the sun will come up tomorrow] remain the same, but the world of scientific discoveries is growing every day, and yet I don’t see a change in Science textbooks. Why is that?

Why aren’t we studying the achievements of our contemporaries too?

Now, in science, there’s only one right answer – fact vs. fiction. I get that, but why do you treat English in the same way? Structure is important and good grammar is indispensable, but the charm of a language lies in its creative use [That’s why we like Shakespeare]. This subjectivity in language is completely discounted in exams, where students who give the same “What Robert Frost was trying to convey here..” answer are graded better than those who can actually make poetry out of words.

Is this what we pay schools for? To me, this isn’t the development of mental and intellectual capabilities. This is the talent of smart and creative young individuals crushed by rules and format.

Tradition is wonderful, but change is far more important. Mediocre education simply will not do in a world where even MBAs get rejected for jobs. This needs to be brought to the attention of children, their parents and all the schools in the U.A.E.

We need better. We deserve better. [Because we pay for better]

A special note to contributors, Kavya Narayanan and Amrita Thakkar: Thank you for your insightful additions, ladies.

What is your take? Tell us in the comments below.

Recommended: Why Are School Fees In Dubai So High?

6 UAE Traffic Fines You Need To Know About| Vol. II

A Look At The NRI Student Experience