Barbados: Excellent Cadre Of Teachers
by Stewart Russell,
Your recent article : “Teachers and Politics” is a fair representation of the facts. Both the DLP and the BLP, usually at their time of governance, have taken shots at the broadside of the teaching profession in Barbados. As you have rightly expressed, even the great man, himself, has been party to this maligning of teachers. You have brought back to our remembrance some of those cutting remarks that were either intentionally meant to damage the profession or at the very least were uttered in moments of human weakness, namely ignorance.
I can attest to the fact that Barbados has an excellent cadre of teachers. It is not difficult to recognize this particularly if you set it against the backdrop of the scarcity of appropriate teaching resources they have at their disposal. The EDUTECH endeavour was meant to do much more in alleviating this problem but failed miserably in its most important component: that of the pedagogy. The hand of spoilage re: the hand of politics, or better stated, the hand of the politicians was very evident in this matter. If you want a man to know everything about a particular ministry portfolio overnight, simply make him a Cabinet Minister and he becomes the advisor, the consultant and the sage par excellence. The technocrats as well as the technicians in that particular domain become his ‘puppets on strings’ and he manipulates them often to meet hidden as well as not so hidden agendas. Let’s face it, this has been prominent in the operations of both political parties and I dare say that in moments of honest reflection, even some of their most seasoned political yard fowls have admitted to this anomalous practice.
Let me state here, that in my humble opinion, our teachers generally are devoted and dedicated to the task assigned to them. I speak of the challenge of equipping our nation’s children with the knowledge and skills necessary to continue the development of society and put our country on a firm foundation that is characterised by a meaningful education, evidenced by good social skills, an enviable work ethic and exemplary spiritual and moral values. Our teachers strive for this and they do it, quite obviously, within the context what they know about the teaching/learning phenomenon. They put in long hours of hard work and to some extent, effective hard work, but this is hampered greatly by the fact that they do most of the work while their charges often are allowed and encouraged to put in minimum work for optimum rewards. The result is that teachers retire to their homes on a daily basis suffering with much stress and burnout. This ought not so to be. The paradigm shift required is the reverse. What is urgently needed is a shift away from the heavy diet of quantitative teaching/learning recipes to more qualitative approaches of teaching and learning. The teacher needs to see himself as a facilitator who helps the student to draw on and build on his intuitive learning deposits. No student starts school with a clean slate for he comes with more knowledge that he has already acquired than he will learn for the rest of his lifetime. I know this sounds unbelievable but a not too careful examination will reveal this to anyone who takes but a moment to study it. The student ought to be at the centre of his learning but we have unwittingly planted the teacher there. Students must be forced to take more responsibility for their own learning. Students who are exposed mostly to quantitative teaching methodologies will ask questions such as “what do I do next” or “what is the next step”. Conversely, students who are exposed to qualitative teaching approaches will ask questions such as “what if I had done this or that instead” or simply “why”. The “why” question is asked by very young children even before their first formal school experience but often it is brushed aside by their first teachers, namely their parents. Quantitative teaching produces quantitative learners while qualitative learners are the outcome of qualitative teaching approaches. The learning experience that emerges from the latter is more meaningful as well as more durable. This will go a long way to develop students who will be more critical in their thinking, creative in their endeavour and successful in their problem solving.
As a consequence, there are two very obvious implications regarding how we must approach education in Barbados. The first relates to the training of teachers while the second has to do with the kind of teaching resources we make available in our schools. Training has to start with the tutors at our lone teacher training institution. That training must be uniquely relevant to Barbados and within the context of its culture. Concomitantly, teachers must be trained in the approaches and methodologies that are geared towards facilitating the students’ learning as opposed to just simply delivering content knowledge and skills.
The Ministry of Education has to pay more attention to the teaching resources that are put in schools. The quality of those resources must be guided by adequate research and the quantity according to the need in the particular school. All this must be managed by Ministerial Technocrats that are not out of date or out of touch with the nature of the citizen that this country needs in order to make it more competitive in this the twenty first century. Barbados has long demonstrated that that its strength lies in the abilities and resilience of its people. Relatively void of natural resources, our hope for survival in a fast paced and highly competitive world must lie in our people and their commitment to God and country.
Stewart Russell is a retired educator.