Extra-curricular priorities

2014-04-05

Ekantipur

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A great many educationists believe that the quality of any curricula is a primary determiner of students’ academic output at all levels of education. But the reality is that the standard of curricula alone is not the sole factor for higher academic achievement of students. It is the teachers that act as a medium between these two components that have a direct bearing on students’ success. Teachers who posses the ability to customise their lessons as per the level and need of the students have harnessed a powerful tool in determining the success or failure of any curricula.

It is perceived that there are three types of curricula. The first is intended curricula, which are prepared by expert groups with high theoretical moorings and high expectations, independent of any relevance to teachers’ and students’ level of knowledge. These kinds of curricula prevail in academic institutions across the country. They are designed by the so-called experts who don’t realise the importance of the realities of student ability and teacher capability in designing the curriculum, or they simply prefer to ignore them.               

The second type, implemented curricula, leaves a lot of interpretation at the teachers’ disposal. They are allowed to manipulate the curriculum according their knowledge and convenience. If they are well qualified or experienced, their skills can render this form of curricula very useful and practical. But without the proper training and knowledge, it can prove irrelevant to the students without any practical and theoretical relevance vis-à-vis their level and context. This is where the intentions behind the curricula are deliberately missed out or added based on its specificities. 

An attained curriculum is one that is checked through a systematic assessment of the students as a universal way of testing the impact of the intended curricula. But flawed examinations or assessment systems never truly reflect the real or desired impacts of the curricula’s intention. There are a host of factors that render the system an ineffective and hollow practice. Widespread cheating among students during exams enabled by loose invigilation mechanisms causes sharp erosion in quality of education and value systems of educational institutions.

Many factors contribute to this. The incompetence, greed and lethargy of teachers are some aggravating elements. From the primary level to the master’s level, these diseases are rampant. Questions are leaked by teachers to select students to enable the latter to top the list or for some form of monetary gain for the former. 

Nowadays, students of all levels depend on guess papers and guides produced by greedy professors who are entrusted with the noble task of setting the questions for exams. This is one of the most shameful things happening in our education system. An English graduate is awarded first division marks on the basis of answers reproduced from guess papers and guides after rote learning. This has had a negative impact on the quality of teaching-learning activities in the academic institutions from primary schools to university classes.        

This is where the rot begins. Although the government has allotted a large sums of money to the education sector in the annual budget and the Ministry of Education claims to have trained 97 percent of the teachers at primary level and attained a high student enrolment rate, the reality speaks otherwise. 

Eighty percent of primary school children were helping their parents harvest paddy in the villages of Saptari district as I was writing this piece. One of my colleagues who just returned from the field says even teachers have given their nod to this.

Our misconception that teachers are the ‘reservoir of knowledge’ has only put teachers at the centre of our children’s education without any responsibility. We need to revisit the old notion and come up with practices to overhaul the entire education system. 

Children are not only empty slates as traditional wisdom holds. They bring their culture, language and a range of early experiences as one UNICEF report suggests. A quality learning environment including adequate facilities, learning resources and positive reinforcement from teachers, relevant curriculum that also teaches life skills—creative and critical thinking, decision making,  problem solving, empathy, effective communication,  interpersonal skills, self-awareness and coping with emotions and stress. 

Apart from this, good processes, well trained teachers, well-managed, child-friendly and gender equal classrooms and school are other prerequisites to lure children into the classroom. In addition, skill-based, child-centred participatory methods and appropriate technologies and outcomes ensuring appropriate 

levels of literacy, numeracy, and other important life skills are the things that help a school to teach and shape children’s future.

Rigour, relevance and reasoning should be intertwined with reading, writing and arithmetic skills. Efforts to ensure the children’s psycho-social development should be given priority in order to optimise the returns of investment on education. Teachers know about the problems students face, but they do not know how to solve them. Therefore, it is wise to take the teachers into confidence .This is how we attain the best results out of the intended curricula. 

(The author is involved in educational research with Aide et Action International Nepal)