Inherited confusion of formal education

A few days back I was sent a video clip of Sir Ken Robinson talking to TED whereupon he makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.  The video clip run for about 24mins and my initial thought when I got this clip was to ignore it – purely because I felt frugal of my time committments at the time it was sent.  However the person that had sent to me, had requested me to give him feedback and ignoring such a request was not something that comes easy to me. I always think that if someone takes the time to pass something across adding a request that you let them know your take, it is somewhat rude for me to ignore.  Also if I say I will get back to them, I know myself enough now to view this as a binning excuse on my part.  Simply because even with the intention being that I will get back, I never do – something else crops up, something more demanding and requiring just as more time consumption, that in the end the prior requests get forgotten and end up in my mental bin.

Returning to the subject of Sir Ken Robinson’s talk whereby he challenges the way our children here in the UK are educated.  He champions a radical rethink of the school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence. He argues that “it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers.” Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences.

Well his words struck a chord. They took me back to the time of my primary education in Uganda which still operates along the lines of streaming pupils in to classes dependent on academic ability of conforming to the written and stipulated curriculum.  The system in operation was and still is – you were tested every final term and moved up a class depending on whether you attained the required pass rate.  Whether or not you fully understood what you gave in the answers to the questions was incosquential — for all that mattered you could’ve crammed robotically the answers as long as they tallied and you got the required pass rate.  As a result of academic streaming, it was not surprising therefore to find younger aged pupils in a class or form that housed older aged pupils.

Now one thing that puzzled me and still does in fact is what appears to be an inherited form of formal education in all the academic institutions back in Uganda.  Just like Sir Robinson states about “educating people out of their creativity” – I find a comparison of teaching in Uganda in the sense of that we were educated out of our culture. The situation remains because of inherited teaching methods and curriculum dictae.

An example which up to this day that I can cite is that of a rural farmer who scrapes and saves to put his child through the formal education system.  After excelling in his/her studies at a secondary level, the youngster soon enters university.  In Africa, one is not considered to have made it academically if he or she has not passed through University or have letters after his/her name.  In fact most jobs in Africa are geared towards the service delivery industry favouring graduates.  Problem is, mass unemployment is like a cancer that is spreading and not all graduants will  be able to be placed with an office job.  Herein lies my puzzle.

Returning to the farmer’s dilema, after years of saving and scraping to put a child through the formal education system, the farmer (parent) is puzzled why it is that his child is not willing to return and work or help him out on the farm but would instead prefer to roam the city roads touting for business.  In extreme cases, the young person soon resorts to short-cuts which sadly may cost him/her their life or assets.    Well I guess, the fact that farming – be it animal husbandry or agricultural farming was not so readily availed to this young person to tie into his founding roots in the formative years of his formal education might shed some light to the youngster’s predicament.

For the young person, taking up farming is a last resort considered to be for losers or failures, since he/she most likely grew up being told that if he/she wasted the fees on returning poor grades, his/her education would be cut short and he/she would return to the farm to till the land instead.  So farming in this young person’s eyes was ingrained to equate failure.   Besides, the youngster might have studied law – and in a rural village setting, such skills might not be economically viable…

I look at the education system and think along the lines of what Sir Robinson raises.  Are we pushing our children to attain academics simply because they will look good to show off or should we nurture our children’s educational developments along the lines of complimenting the abilities or skills that can give them a balance in the society around them?  Should the model of education be along a set curriculum globally and if so who is to determine what is viable to teach?


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