Stop schools from failing

WonderED – Stop schools from failing
In their first three months of schooling in public education system my children have, several times, said they didn’t want to go to school. Sometimes they said school did not excite them. We have had many discussions about their education experiences and are still sharing their thoughts and feelings about their schooling. They were motivated and excited to go to school when they were in a democratic school before moving to the mainstream education system. They are now told what to learn and given ‘work’ to do. Always within a set time-frame, not ‘at your own time or pace’. There is only controlled space now for them to talk, walk, run around, explore, play, laugh and discuss things with peers. Not as they need to and want to in their ‘living educational space’. There is no time for engaging interactions either between children or between children and teachers. Their voices, including teachers’, are tamed. We are finding that school is less child-friendly. Schooling system is more adult-friendly.
Some examples may demonstrate how schooling and mass-education system is functioning as less child-friendly. High school children stay back after school to finish their ‘work’ if not completed within the time they are given. Looking at the clock ticking could make them nervous, anxious and depressed. There are no punishments, punishment is old school word. But there are consequences in this new school age. Primary children stay back during recess for various reasons. With much disappointment, frustration and shame. Five minutes of their most precious break time is removed – deliberately and forcefully. Precious five minutes of talking and laughing (in a controlled soft voice though), socialising with their peers, being outdoors in the fresh air and breathing normally is taken away from them. They are made to stay back in the classroom even if they are hungry. When they get to the dinner hall they are already late, their peers would be leaving. Everyone knows about why this child is late for lunch or late to arrive in the playground.
Isn’t this practice blaming, naming and shaming the child? However, it is being practised to make the child become a respectful, responsible and contributing citizen. Yet, we say we are all committed to children’s physical and emotional health.
There is a child in our neighbourhood who sighs when I ask “hey, how was your day?” The answer is “It’s the same, school never gets better”. When I chat with parents at the school many mention casually that their child doesn’t like school. At least one child in a family may be having negative educational experience. However, I do know some children enjoy and thrive in their schooling. Some parents support how education system is working. There are only a few of them though.
Children’s behaviour in schools is managed every single minute. Are they incapable of self-governance, with a teacher’s guidance? If children don’t behave as per the rules they get coloured cards signifying a warning, removal of their personal time, rewards or another type of negative consequence. These rules may be to do with homework, learning objectives or classroom/playground behaviour. Aren’t we applying adults’ football game rules (for being aggressive in the field?) in classrooms with our children? In the name of schooling we seem to be creating more barriers, not openness. Teachers are being pushed to lose qualities such as humane-ness and empathy thus disconnecting them with children.
What we know is that children in schools are trained how to conform to a system. If they don’t and/or can’t conform they have to leave the system. Less willingness or ability to conform brings more negative consequences. If we parents don’t support them well enough to conform we have to leave the system too. Conforming process involves many effects and affects such as frustration, lack of motivation, anxiety, eating disorders, nature deficit disorder, addictive behaviour … Hard efforts to conform invites challenges too not only within the child but also in the family, for the teachers and for the parents. These effects, affects and challenges are gradually becoming huge issues in our societies with an increase in the number of sick and ill adults, both physically and mentally. National economies are feeling the pinch!
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has many Articles underlining ‘the best interests of the child’ be served by the society. Do we need to stop and ask how we are neglecting such child rights in schooling system? Shouldn’t we be, as a society, interrogating how we are making our own children unhealthy? Whilst teaching children about healthy choices, how to be respectful and contributing citizens we are ignoring how the system that we are practising actually contradicts and opposes that.
School is more adult-friendly. To most children, to a lot of parents. Adults have designed and delivered schools as child-centred where they dictate and direct children’s learning. The physical and emotional space in schools is an adult-controlled space. By the adults, for the adults. To perform certain functions that will eventually strengthen the market economy of the country. Teachers are rushed by the policy makers ‘to do a million things’ to prepare workers for the economy. Such policies are taking teachers’ precious time away from children, from engaging pedagogies.
Long time ago I stopped going to circus where animals were trained, used and displayed. I actively campaigned for animals’ rights. Those memories are coming back now.
Are teacher-education courses in universities now all about behaviour management and how best to deliver literacy and numeracy lessons? Such courses seem to be producing mere instructors not change agents who stand up for and practise social justice. The mentoring and nurturing role of educators is almost forgotten now. Responding effectively and efficiently to bureaucracy is the real world practice now. How much room is provided in such courses to explore and hold conversations about critical thinking, self-inquiry and reflexive practice? We need to get to talk about human agency and quality of life with values of ethical care, dignity, integrity and equality in those courses. We need more of the philosophy and practice of learning through experience. Children need engaging pedagogies with imagination, creativity and collaboration – their learning objectives, not the adults’.
In a western society and English-speaking ‘developed’ countries we need to talk about children’s educational experiences and bring reforms to the system that is marching us in a dangerous direction. It is as important as Access to Education, Making Education Free and Compulsory and Right to Education movements that our friends are fighting for in non-English speaking, ‘developing’ countries.
We need a move beyond the mere exercise of best literacy and numeracy outcomes and best school term attendance. The decision-makers of education policy and practice need to understand and acknowledge there is more to education than behaviour management, school attendance, grades and outcomes, and meeting the learning objectives. Our urgent need is not to ‘create’ best conforming human citizens.
We need to build relationships and sustain ourselves as communities in this globalised techno-business world. Pedagogies help us to join hands with all living communities to sustain the life, recognising we are but a part in this ecological system. We, as equal members of sustainable communities of that holistic system, reflect our togetherness through connecting with everything in our lived world. Education should open up our Actionable Space to locate our agency. To become aware of, contemplate, take action, maintain it and then sustain it. Any education should facilitate our understanding of and enable us to relate, respond, reflect and connect with.
Switch off the top-down rule. Let’s switch on the bottom-up dialogue. We are a concerned community. Our children share equal and collaborative citizenship.
Let us stop schools from failing.
Cheers, Vinathe

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About Vinathe Sharma

I am an interdisciplinary researcher and practitioner. My engagment is to facilitate people's understanding of their own agency and the Actionable Space in their life. I draw from various theoretical and practitioner areas of Education, Psychology, Social Work, Environmental Studies, Literature, Sociology and History. I work with communities at the grassroots as well as in the academia.
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2 Responses to Stop schools from failing

  1. Lenore Armour says:

    hmmmm when I read this my friend and think about my godsons’ not enjoying their school experience I am forced to recall my times as a school principal and am sobered by your comments. Perhaps it is very fortunate that we didn’t meet until after that period of my life!! xx Lenore

  2. I feel your sentiments fully Vinathe. And I was one who was forced to leave even the democtratic alternative system as it too was totally controlling in other way and contradicting. HOmeschooling was the only way and finally we are seeing the benefits of our life as homeschoolers. Yet I know that homeschooling for most is not the answer nor the possibility. There are homeschooling parents who work and homeschool at the same time. I am lucky that I can be a full time homeschooling parent while my husband works to support us. But what about all children? What about all the children still in this system that ultimately is shutting them down? It takes a village to raise a child and to this day I feel such pain seeing and hearing what is happening to children in the system, not to mention the teachers, who for the most part, are doing their best under the circumstances. It is not ok and our kids are not ok. I only pray that my kids will grow into happy adults who want to contribute to the betterment of the world and its people.

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