We hope that our establishment will not replicate the failed UK models. Future technical offerings should not be conceptualised at birth as “pathways for failures”, while those fit for academic studies face unprecedented hurdles
By S. Callikan
Observers, front-line rectors, teachers, many parents and probably, even part of our education establishment, recognize the heavy if not overbearing orientation and bias of our education system towards the traditional academic pathway.
It is indeed a legacy of our English and colonial past, and we will gladly recognize that for many decades, this academic orientation has performed admirably in providing the country with the vital internationally qualified human resources it badly needed over the post-independence period. Doctors and paramedics, engineers and architects, financial and economic wizards, legal and administrative higher echelons, IT specialists, pedagogues or aviation personnel, exposed to and tutored in some of the world’s best institutions of higher learning, contributed without doubt to shaping the country’s resilience in the face of formidable odds to development and social justice.
Fifty years later, the need for what some have termed an “élite” remains as necessary as ever in our complex setup where both state, confessional, private and fee-paying colleges have played their part. In actual fact, while recognizing that only a fraction of children will become doctors or engineers, there is every reason for the state to expand this academic pathway in the secondary, to offer more and better quality opportunities that percolate down to all sections of our society, to nurture more students able and willing to embark on the long haul of rigorous academic studies leading to O, then A-levels and ultimately to decent universities. And there are literally thousands of individual stories of sacrifices endured by families in every village so their children could burn the midnight oil, aim for higher horizons, achieve their personal ambitions or attain better socio-economic standing and quality of life.
We have witnessed since independence continuous efforts by the State to broaden the reach of this academic pathway, if only through more and better regional colleges of merit or better trained teaching staff, free secondary education and transport or wider laureateship to combine both merit and family financial situations. But the education system on the whole remained focused on this time-honoured colonial legacy of the academic pathway as the only educational and personal life achievement objective, with its set curricula, methods, curricula and examinations geared for the minority that would complete their university studies.
Competition for perceived better schools and the proliferation of private tuition became inescapable correlates of a heavily skewed system that paid scant regard to the majority of students who would be blamed, branded and ejected as rejects, slow-learners, misfits, failures and other derogatory terms coined by those academic products who hold sway in our Education Establishment as they did in the UK. In their rather narrow view, the system could not be at fault and even the well-meaning ZEPs or after-hours, catch-up or remedial teaching were only designed to bring at least some of those unfortunate constituents back to the academic fold that constituted “normalcy”. This blinkered and straitjacket view of Education was and still today remains the hallmark of British educational systems and most of their legacies in former colonies.
We will not throw the book at the MIE pedagogues or their counterparts in Education House, where many good minds have mostly been products (or victims…) of the traditional academic pathway. Yet they might give careful attention to the systemic failure of UK-inspired education orthodoxy to apprehend and far less implement alternative pathways within the educational system so the majority of children are not excluded and branded as failures at one stage or another.
They might peruse with benefit the 2016 report of the UK House of Lords, on the UK Education system, in particular, the Vocational/Technical avenue, and appropriately titled ‘Overlooked and Left Behind’. Lady Corson, who chaired the Peers Committee did not mince words on the obsession with academic routes within the UK establishment: to wit, “a culture of inequality between vocational and academic routes to work pervades the education system”, she says bluntly, adding:
“Non-academic routes to employment are complex, confusing and incoherent. The qualifications system is similarly confused and has been subjected to continual change… the final four years of schooling should be redesigned so that more pupils can pass recognised vocational qualifications on a par with A-levels.”
But this is only the latest in a long series of high-level reports on technical/vocational education highlighting that country’s failures against a firmly entrenched academic establishment in the UK. Melissa Benn reckons in The Guardian of January 2020 that
“The biggest push will be on technical and further education, which has been starved of money and effective reform for decades. At the end of his first term Johnson will want to point to a plethora of shiny new projects, from souped-up further education colleges to brand new institutes of technology and selective sixth forms…”
The new UK Education secretary, Gavin Williamson, has set a target that vocational education in Britain will “overtake Germany” in the next decade, although British politicians have been saying this for nearly two centuries.
Back to our shores, in its first mandate the MSM-led government decided a radical restructuring of our primary-secondary education with the Nine Year Continuous Basic Education reform. Overall, wrapping up any pre-vocational and vocational streams that were struggling on, it instituted the academic pathway as the only avenue of worthwhile education for which fierce competition, new selective examinations (Form III), restricted access Academies, minimum credits for access to final-years of HSC studies (private-aided or public) and an exacerbated private tuition industry were deemed necessary, or acceptable. The 30% or more failures at PSAC have been herded in “extended streams” for more academic college studies (!), while further “failures” at Form III or Form V-credits are basically told to look elsewhere. The Government Programme 2020-24 launched a month ago promises an about-turn, shifting emphasis onto some future TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) schools, with an Institute for Technical Education that looks set to be carved out from the remains of the MITD.
We hope that our establishment will not replicate the failed UK models. Future technical offerings should not be conceptualised at birth as “pathways for failures”, while those fit for academic studies face unprecedented hurdles and restrictions that Nine Year Continuous Basic Education reform has thrown onto their path. The Ministry and its associated pedagogical bodies have enough time to review their directions towards a more sustainable education system.
* Published in print edition on 28 February 2020
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