Sunday 16th April, 2006

 

More to Education than passing exams

 
 
 
 
 
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Dr Karen Moore

Clinical child psychologist

Many years ago, when I was in West Germany (that was when it was still West Germany, in my misspent youth), I met a young man from a West African nation. He told me about the corruption in his country; that favours were expected at all levels. He had younger twin sisters and he expected that for them to be able to advance in their school career, they would have to sleep with their male teachers. I was horrified. He shrugged and said it was sad, but that was just the way it was.

After seeing the relief and jubilation of the SEA students once the exam was behind them, I thought about the incident described above. Specifically, I thought of the many parents who acknowledge how painful the SEA process is, but then say: That’s the system we have to work with, that’s just how it is.

Recently, I was at a panel discussion at UWI School, my old school, debating the pros and cons of maintaining the school’s present, wide-ranging curriculum versus narrowing the focus to concentrate purely on SEA-related material. According to Pat Worrell, who started us off with a rousing presentation, your curriculum depends on what kind of child you want to create.

In planning its original curriculum, in the days of the old Scholarship Exam, UWI School did not take the this-is-the-way-it-is approach. Rather, the school started from the point that it wanted the kind of child who had been through a curriculum which was enjoyable and educational. And this is the philosophy to which the school has adhered in the 50 or so years of its existence.

This is evident not only from the curriculum, but from the school’s refusal to do “lessons” with the SEA class. The principal and teachers hold—quite rightly—that the curriculum should be taught during school hours and that there is sufficient time in the school day and school year to learn, master and practise it. Their confidence is borne out by the school’s consistently good results and by the fact that many of their students do well while continuing their extra-curricular activities right through SEA year.

The students at UWI School are not, as a group, any brighter or more talented than the general population. The difference is that they are allowed to develop their talents through a curriculum which encourages performance and excellence in many different areas.

UWI School never set out to be an alternative school (although, tellingly, a former principal did go on to establish another primary school which had mixed ability classes), but it turned out to be a good place for children who would not have worked in the mainstream school system.

I remember a young man who couldn’t spell, but wrote wonderful compositions, which were pasted up on the bulletin board and praised for their originality. The affirmation he got, helped him into a first-choice boys’ school.

Education was never meant to be about grooming students only to pass one particular exam or set of exams, that is a failure of education.

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