By Shekar Dewoo
Aren’t we instead, thanks to private tuitions, preparing a generation of dependent learners, who will always need to be assisted in their learning process?
The debate on private tuition is again hitting the headlines. It comes in the wake of the resolution adopted by the Ministry of Education to ban this practice for next year’s standard four cohort. The dispute has been further exacerbated by the firm resolution taken by the president of the primary school teachers’ union to bring the matter to Court. As a result, we have witnessed an escalation in tone on both sides during the past week.
On the other hand, while the government is determined to eliminate this cursed practice as from next year in standard four, the MMM education spokesperson Steve Obeegadoo is doggedly against doing that. To my understanding, the government and the opposition both agree on the principle of eliminating private tuition; what seems to be disputed is the timing and approach adopted by the government. Further, the opposition is insisting on the need to tackle the problem at its root — CPE exams.
Private tuition has not left teachers and parents insensible. Teachers and parents cannot reconcile the fact that the recipe (private tuition) that worked miracles for them in the past seems to have lost the fad and is being questioned. On one hand they are claiming that our children are losing their childhood through cut-throat competition aimed at achieving better marks to secure admission to ‘star schools’ – yet they are not ready to address the whole issue once for all. They are not ready to get rid of their ambivalence: we cannot complain about children burdened with heavy bags and excessive homework, yet sponsor the abusive and excessive practice of private tuitions.
We all understand that changes in practices and norms always meet with resistance, anxiety and stress. However, we need to understand that teaching and learning have greatly evolved and changed. Long gone are the days when the traditional chalk-and-talk teaching methods were the common feature of most classroom activities. Today’s teachers are encouraged to spend less time lecturing from the chalkboard and more time leading students in discussions and problem-solving. IT-assisted teaching has also led to a paradigm shift in the approach to teaching and learning in the classroom, with the teacher simply facilitating and prompting the learning process and accompanying the child in the learning odyssey. The focus has shifted diametrically from the teacher-centred teaching classroom to a child-centred learning environment.
It is worth mentioning that we live in a very unpredictable environment. The shelf life of knowledge is short and transient. Consequently most people need to continue to acquire and process new information throughout their lives. The nature and complexity of issues and challenges demand mastery over different branches of knowledge. Most people are now required not only to “know’ but also to “do” i.e. hands on, applying the knowledge. As such the emphasis has shifted from “what” to learn to “how” to learn. So the question that we ask ourselves is, does the classroom really connect us to reality?
A sound curriculum aims at providing interest and motivation to learn, creating a learning environment in which students can explore, fine tune, and test their unique abilities and learning styles. It also helps create habits of mind for investigating and structuring problem-solving pathways, for facilitating the development of self-assessment tools and creating confidence in problem-solving situations.
How far does our educational system provide for the above? The primary curriculum seems to be driven by a highly summative assessment approach where norm referencing still seems to be driving the whole system. We are far from a good criterion referenced framework, where students match their own potentials. Diversified assessment tools like pilot projects, scenario presentations, data collection, and group work should be encouraged so as to better diagnose the learning outcomes and expectations of individuals rather that benchmark children against each other.
The bottom line is that we live in a world that is integrated, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. Problems, projects and challenges are what we are confronted with in everyday life, yet we continue to function with straightjacket subject-centered activities. It is high time to revisit the curriculum in order to help develop a nation where students are prepared to be reflective, risk takers, thinkers, inquirers and open minded. Aren’t we instead, thanks to private tuitions, preparing a generation of dependent learners, who will always need to be assisted in their learning process? For missed lessons, unclear concepts and for SEN (special educational needs) students, catch-up lessons or extra coaching are provided (in the form of an enhancement programme) for part of the curriculum, but I have never heard of the need for support to the whole curriculum. If this is indeed the case, we are undermining the objective of a sound curriculum.
According to sound pedagogic definition, coaching can be defined as a continuous process of providing students with feedback to enhance, maintain or improve their performance. The overall objective of coaching is to enable individuals and groups of individuals (teams) to broaden, develop and motivate each other to achieve improvement in their performances. The private coaches should be able to provide differentiated teaching techniques to children having different learning abilities. They should be able to provide feedback on individual performance and be specific while giving feedback. They should provide for a supportive and non-threatening environment which allows for constructive criticism in their coaching class and most fundamentally the teaching and learning should be formative by nature. The question that we should be asking ourselves is whether the above is taking place. If not, what are the main objectives of private tuitions?
To rid ourselves of private tuitions we need to address the whole concept of approach to learning. We have to admit that each individual has unique learning needs. The questions we should ask ourselves are: are we providing the right support to address the individual needs of students? Does the teacher-pupil ratio facilitate the differentiated teaching approach? Do we provide for proper school-home counselling to improve the emotional quotient of the child? Do we properly address life skills issues? We need not only an elite but also a country with good citizens, who are in sound physical, mental and social health. We need citizens who respect cultural diversity, who are proud to be Mauritians and who abide by high moral standards.
* Published in print edition on 25 November 2011