Appropriate methods can help bad schools overcome problems

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Tue, 05/20/2003 12:44 PM | Opinion A | A | A | Sunitha Girish, Contributor, Jakarta

The Jakarta Post’s recent focus on international schools took me back to my own school days. Being part of an international school with air-conditioned rooms, a pool, well-equipped gym, attractive books complete with photos rather than drawings, students from all over the world, meaning lots of varied programs, an exciting curriculum, no end of the year exams, an active student council where we learned the fine nuances of governing, the promotion of common interests rather than the pursuit of self-serving interests and, most of all, humane, gentle, progressive and talented teachers, all seems like a dream today.

Policies like never giving an outright “”no”” to our answers (classes were an ocean of raised hands), making scrapbooks and evaluating them in “”our own words””, a mantra in our work, reading out stories to us right up to grade six to ensure we happily came to class to hear the continuation, the embodiment of teamwork in all our activities and most of all respect for our characters, contributed to a powerful combination of knowledge and understanding.

Obviously good infrastructure is a plus point but comes at a cost. Otherwise, what can schools do to become good? First of all, they can see value in the implementation of educational policies, programs and practices, considering the long-term impact of every action and basing them on research. The results, when applied, contribute to a steady climb for students from elementary, to middle to senior levels.

In elementary schooling (age five to seven), the emphasis would be on teaching through fun methods, a lot of arts and crafts, learning to get along and building trust in the teacher. Pressure is not beneficial therefore methodology reigns supreme.

Varied activities are employed as the attention spans of children are only one and half times their age. Not a time for competition. However exciting it is to discover the most “”amazing”” child it is detrimental to children’s interests and doesn’t help them in learning to respect each other for their differences. It has been proven that by the age of five, 80 percent of a child’s skills have been developed, so every child must be helped from then on. Written work is minimal as a child’s hands do not develop fully till the age of seven. Tests should be steered clear of. Appreciation for every child is the code. Words like “”bad handwriting”” or “”not neat”” are forbidden. Homework, if given, should be very light.

In middle schooling (age eight to 11), students are placed on track for mastering subjects of which the foundation has been laid earlier. Some homework is given with the aim being developing independence in tackling schoolwork.

However, it is important to remember, although homework ensures better grades the student’s bag should not weigh more than 10 percent of his weight. Thus the homework should be spaced out. By the age of 10, they can accept tests.

In senior schooling (age 12 to 17), students continue to acquire knowledge, discovering their areas of strength with the help of teachers. It is time for healthy competition induced by the students themselves, time to start debate sessions, to put on their own shows and to take home considerable amounts of homework.

The ultimate test, final exams, should ideally be given from grade eight onwards.

Factors like the curriculum, sports programs, extracurricular activities all matter. The academic curriculum must be designed for the average child (discovered through research) in order to help all of the students.

Obviously, it is only possible to improve a school’s programs if the parents and teachers cooperate. PTAs should be seen as joint efforts rather than as battlegrounds. Programs like in-house training for teachers help because teaching courses are often inadequate, leaving teachers confused by shy, sensitive or aggressive behavior. Teachers should not remind children of their vulnerabilities (why are you so silent, naughty, etc.).

They must them in mind and help them. They then can convey to the parents the positive aspects of the child’s character and skills. Parents in turn can let teachers know their appreciation of their sincerity.

However, no one parent or child should be pointed out. Good schools convey such messages through circulars with fair policies for all. Incidents of bullying, teasing or racist remarks should not be tolerated.

It is vital that the design of the education system and all involved with it like administrations, teachers and parents are extremely fair. The education system must be one where each child gets an equal opportunity to grow (children are the future), one that consistently avoids marketing hype (“”take only those four students so that the show looks good””) and allows imperfections from the students (being different is fine). This instills a sense of justice, idealism, knowing what is right and moving forward to change the wrong into right instead of fatalistically accepting it. By doing so every student finds his worth one day, and this is exactly what a good school helps in.

It is not easy for a school to overcome its problems overnight as most schools face vast curriculums, standardized tests and restrained budgets. However, if the principal, along with the teachers and parents have a sound vision, follow the latest educational policies and child psychology research, get input from the best schools, do appropriate budgeting and last, but not least, do some serious introspection, overcoming problems is certainly not unattainable.

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