An Open Let­ter to Gale – Part 2

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

Last week I ex­pressed my view that the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion should no longer be en­cour­aged to play the role of lim­it­ing and pre­scrib­ing what sources of knowl­edge, pre­vi­ously known as books, are to be used in our schools. Ac­cess to the In­ter­net through smart­phones, tablets, com­put­ers and other de­vices has made com­pul­sory read­ing lists that are al­ready ex­pen­sive im­po­si­tions on par­ents strug­gling to make ends meet, quite re­dun­dant, given the breadth and wealth of on­line in­for­ma­tion avail­able at lit­tle or no cost to all.

With­out the gen­eral pub­lic there would be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a pub­lic ser­vice; the pub­lic ser­vice ex­ists for one rea­son alone: to serve the gen­eral pub­lic, not to be its mas­ter. The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion's role is to ad­min­is­ter the re­sources avail­able to fa­cil­i­tate a smooth run­ning sys­tem, and clearly one of the min­istry's chief con­cerns is to make sure that stu­dents are well pre­pared to face tests and ex­am­i­na­tions dur­ing their school ca­reers as well as the chal­lenges they will face once they leave school, all of which jus­ti­fies the min­istry's am­bi­tion to de­scribe what needs to be learnt.

But de­scrib­ing what needs to be learnt is not at all the same thing as pre­scrib­ing what meth­ods and ma­te­ri­als will be used. When you think about it, us­ing a dic­ta­to­rial ap­proach to ad­min­is­tra­tion does noth­ing to fos­ter in­no­va­tion and ini­tia­tive. On the con­trary, it sti­fles am­bi­tion and de­vel­op­ment in both teach­ers and stu­dents. On the other hand, to­tal, un­fet­tered free­dom can be dan­ger­ous too; there must be some as­sur­ance that what is be­ing taught is cor­rect, which is where CAMDU comes in.

The Cur­ricu­lum and Ma­te­rial De­vel­op­ment Unit has led a che­quered ex­is­tence; even two decades ago when Dr. Jules was fer­ment­ing riot in schools with his far-fetched ideas of hav­ing qual­i­fied teach­ers, CAMDU was a thorn in his side. To­day, how­ever, it would seem to me that the time has come to re-launch the unit as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor that would vet, ap­praise, rec­om­mend or re­ject as much as pos­si­ble of all on­line ma­te­ri­als for use to schools. Very quickly we would amass a vast num­ber of well pro­duced, ex­cit­ing and in­for­ma­tive videos. Teach­ers and stu­dents would, of course, be able to sub­mit ma­te­ri­als they find on the Net for CAMDU ap­praisal. In a flash, well al­most, the cost of buy­ing books would van­ish. Now be­fore you re­ject this idea as im­prac­ti­cal I have to tell you that this is the sys­tem that is be­ing used in many de­vel­oped na­tions, and it works. In fact, it is un­stop­pable. The Net is here to stay.

Noth­ing il­lus­trates the cor­rect­ness of this ap­proach to on­line teach­ing ma­te­ri­als bet­ter than the is­sue of Cli­mate Change. Text­books are cumbersome, not only to carry or store but also to re­vise. The Cli­mate Change is­sue re­ally emerged a decade or so ago but even now there are those who se­ri­ously doubt its va­lid­ity (Don­ald Trump for one; of course he is so id­i­otic he prob­a­bly be­lieves that his Mex­i­can Wall will keep out the ef­fects of any cli­mate change). The emer­gence of Cli­mate Change as a se­ri­ous is­sue to be ad­dressed in schools caused pub­lish­ers the world over to re­vise their text­books, but what did they do? They added a chap­ter or a few new il­lus­tra­tions to ex­ist­ing books to make them ap­pear to be up-to-date. It was like chang­ing a chop­stick illustration in a book destined for Tai­wan into co­conuts and palm trees and call­ing it a spe­cial Caribbean version. Of course, the lat­est books do pay at­ten­tion to the prob­lem of Cli­mate Change, but I can as­sure that pub­lish­ers still take into ac­count mar­kets where the re­al­i­ties of Cli­mate Change or evo­lu­tion are still not ac­cepted, and pro­duce their books ac­cord­ingly.

With re­spect to the cur­ricu­lum, I heard re­cently that the prime min­is­ter had an­nounced, per­haps a lit­tle in­tem­per­ately, that Man­darin was to be in­tro­duced into schools, an idea that I would heartily sup­port de­spite the fact that only the very few would ever achieve flu­ency and even fewer would ever have use for the lan­guage. Per­haps it is even time to in­tro­duce Cre­ole into the school pro­gramme; the suc­cess rate would cer­tainly be higher; it would en­hance na­tional unity and it could cer­tainly be­come a tool in the tourist trade; an­other job for CAMDU per­haps? Of course, teach­ing a lan­guage most peo­ple use or have an op­por­tu­nity to use would be quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary, duh!

In a school sys­tem that can­not afford ex­pen­sive science labs, ad­e­quate lan­guage learn­ing fa­cil­i­ties, li­braries where stu­dents can re­search their projects and cut­ting edge tech­nol­ogy, the In­ter­net is a bless­ing that can­not be ig­nored. Ig­nored? It should be en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced in an or­gan­ised sys­tem­atic way that har­vests good ma­te­rial that can be stored and cat­a­logued. Even ma­te­rial that might be con­sid­ered less re­li­able or even of doubt­ful qual­ity might be use­fully stored and marked as such so that stu­dents could com­pare dif­fer­ent sources of in­for­ma­tion, make judg­ments, and learn how to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff. Any­way, thanks for read­ing so far and more to fol­low next week.

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