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Education: revolution and change

Louis MOYSTON

Tuesday, May 20, 2014    

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THE explosion of science and its application in the form of technology, over the past 300 years, have transformed some countries and the global society in monumental proportions. Amidst this long history, there are those countries that have never developed the capacity to respond to any of these scientific revolutions. In the age of robotics and industry, computer and the ICT technologies, and also the transformative forces of the "engineering culture", there are expressions of serious concern about the systemic failure of education in Jamaica. Against this background there are calls for a new philosophy of education and also calls for a "revolution in education". This articles calls for a transformation of the system of education, seeking teachers and related practitioners in the centre of the process to fill their role as "agents of social change".

These transformative forces of the new scientific revolution have had far-reaching effects on societies and peoples, requiring radical responses from the educational system. One writer, advancing the idea for radical educational response, describes the contemporary situation in terms of "knowledge society" requiring "knowledge workers".

Knowledge is, indeed, power. In order to begin to respond to change, the policymakers and practitioners must possess "anticipatory intelligence" to "think in future tense". To what extent are we, as a country and nation, prepared to deal with these "new realities"?

The concerns about the "failure" emerged in the following themes: a group of eight teachers expressed the view that, among other factors, poor teaching has contributed in part to the "failure". And a former high school principal blamed the system's failure on poor training and called for a re-examination of the teaching-training institutions. There is an 'explosive' charge made by a department head from The Mico University College, that the "failure of the system" is due its characteristic; "it is a kind of social asphyxia" that "chokes the human potential" and deepens the "social divide". All these, among other concerns, are suspended in a state of arrested development in Jamaica.

Trevor Turner (1977) illustrates how colonial education works, and that it was about "habit, training, discipline", but not "book learning". M White, in her sterling effort at a history of education in Jamaica, describes vocational education and teacher-training in terms of "practical/trade training" and "rote" learning. The history of education shows that vocational education is the root to general education in Jamaica, and that the contemporary educational and training system is still guided by rote learning and 'practical' training.

According to one lecturer at UWI, Cave Hill, Majid Amini, the students who completed 'A levels'/CAPE have problems to go beyond the lower levels of the taxonomy in thinking skills; and that the orientation in rote learning has suffocated all possibilities of critical, creative and innovative skills. No wonder the comments regarding major teaching and learning problems in English language, mathematics and science are associated with the lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills. Amini (2000), providing a major critique of the general educational system, calls for a new thinking and philosophy to guide education in the post-colonial situation.

In addition to the academic concerns about the failure of the educational system, there are increasing concerns about its relationship to the crime. In recent months there was a story that a significant amount of the youth entering the prisons attended certain secondary institutions. Related to this story, one leading social commentator noted the observation by Minister of National Security that lotto scammers were not the typical uneducated criminals. The newspaper columnist then stated, that "is what you get when [you] focus on training and neglect education". He addes that the system in Jamaica is too 'instrumental'-oriented and requires new orientations in career paths such as scientists, ICT specialists, engineers, as opposed to the traditional social and occupational preparation. His critique included the public sphere of education, as he noted the relationship between the failure of the educational system and poor quality public discourse even among those who are deemed "educated".

This criticism of the traditional education and training systems was complemented by the voices of students from some high schools in western Jamaica in early 2013. They rejected the 'occupational' offerings advanced by the system. Their rejection was justified by another columnist's argument that the system is broken and that it requires "redesigning". According to this source, the education and training policymakers need to recognise that there is a shift from the plantation system, characterised by a labour-intensive workforce, to a modern workplace requiring scientific and technological workers. In looking at vocational education, Hyland and Hager (2000), located contemporary vocational education in the traditional philosophy that emphasises "skills" and "competence" over learning. They argue that this model cannot produce the citizens and workers for the knowledge society and workplace. Complementing these themes, Heckman (1993) illustrates that this approach is detrimental to "the arts and sciences, the kind of skills employers require". These views establish the grounds for a call for profound changes in education and training, not just to participate in the new workplace, but also for our own survival as a country and nation.

In 2010, one leading economist and columnist, looking at the poor quality of academic performance, the rising illiteracy and crime that plagued the country, argued that these factors compromise our ability to raise productivity. He wrote: "We need a revolution on education to break this vicious cycle as much as we need to survive in this fiercely competitive global economy."

There are calls for moral education against the violence, disorders and academic corruption in the schools. In speaking to a graduating class at a teacher-training college, in 2006, a leading researcher in education called of teachers to become "ascents of social change". This call is consistent with the true meaning and quality of transformation of education: teachers embracing a "new awareness", which in turn inspires a new form of organisation towards a new era in education and society.

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