Articles

How our educational system unmakes us

  • “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” ~Albert Einstein

    Is it just us or is it a worldwide problem?

    The educational system everywhere is considered to be flawed for many reasons, and it has been argued that school kills creativity. In Nigeria, it is not only the system itself that is flawed, everything from exams like WAEC and NECO to incompetent teachers, to wicked university lecturers, to corruption, to lack of good schools and way too much emphasis on paper qualification than actual talent is killing us as a people. 

    An issue that leads to a failed educational system in this country is the fact that the system is not designed to accommodate all. For instance, we have schools where students are forced to stay for hours in classes, and at the end of the day, more than half the class won’t assimilate what was taught due to individual differences. Most people stop learning after a few hours in class, and if students are not understanding, what is the point of making them sit in class when they would have used that time to relax or perhaps even study all the things, they were previously taught.

    In fact, a new study finds that students that 1.5 students that attend traditional university lectures are more likely to fail than students in classes that use active learning methods. However, according to Noah Finkelstein, a professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, there should be a monolithic stance about lecture or no lecture. He further states that there are still times when lectures are needed, but the traditional mode of stand and deliver is being demonstrated as less effective at promoting student learning and preparing future teachers.

    Untrained teachers and the shadow children

    Among the leading issues of our failed educational system is the lack of trained teachers. Being a teacher requires much more than knowing how to write, but unfortunately, we have institutions in Nigeria where there are teachers who can’t even read or write properly putting the future of thousands of kids at risk. When training teachers or choosing people for the job, most schools do not put things such as psychology into consideration. One may ask why this is important. Well, a lot of methods some teachers use to teach or discipline students show that they have little or no knowledge of human behaviour and do not know how to deal with kids. 

    For instance, when a child is shy and socially awkward, most teachers believe that forcefully pushing the child into the spotlight will help the child to become vocal and boost the child’s confidence. However, that is usually not the case. What they often succeed in doing is pushing the child back into their shell and making them fear the spotlight even more. It doesn’t matter if the child was able to speak at that time, for that experience may cause the child unwilling to put themselves in that situation ever again, in order words, the fear may become greater.

    This, when looked at properly, is not as effective as working towards building the self-esteem of children at a younger age and allowing them to grow into it in their own people while setting the pace. When you make children believe they can do something and give them the tools to work towards that thing, you do not need to force them or embarrass them into doing things; they will figure out their way and do it in their OWN TIME.

    Related article: An outline of Piaget’s four stages of development in concept formation

    According to Dr Koplewicz, who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the president of Mind Institute “sometimes when pushing kids, you bump into a real limitation. It can be anxiety disorder, or a learning disability. There is a real barrier there. It’s not that they don’t want to do it. They would love to do it. It’s just too hard and unless you remove the barrier, encouraging and cheerleading won’t work.”

    There are many ways to slowly build confidence such as complimenting them for going out of their comfort zone even for little things. For instance, if you have a very shy child that finds it difficult to communicate with other kids, and one day that child makes an effort to say hi to another kid first, complimenting that child will encourage that behavior and will make them feel like they can do more instead of just shouting at them and calling them names; let them know that there is nothing wrong with being the way they are , in most Nigerian societies shy kids are shamed and mocked even by adults and what that succeeds in doing is pushing them further into their comfort zones.

    Another thing about dealing with shy kids is that you can help best when you identify the cause of such shyness and that will make it easier to know if it is social anxiety or learning disabilities. There are many reasons why children are shy, for some it is genetics, and others are that way because of the environment they live in – factors such as pushing a child beyond their abilities, really harsh criticisms, personality, little or no social interactions as well as relationship with family members can be the reason for shyness in children.

    Another thing we fail to understand is that shyness is not always a negative thing as we believe it is; we can’t all be the same or be good at the same things. However, when shyness is severe in kids, it is better to get professional help instead of using aggressive ways to push them out of their comfort zone.

    Many times, learning disabilities are not recognized in kids because of lack of trained personnel and the belief that when children don’t do something, it is because they are being stubborn, or are stupid or not trying hard enough. Children with conditions like dyslexia are written off as ‘slow learners ‘or are said not to be cut out for school when in reality there is an underlying condition that has not been identified. 

    Also, read: Is primary school destroying your child's self-esteem?

    The sheep mentality

    Another thing that is killing our educational system is the ‘sheep mentality.‘ Instead of teaching children how to think, we try to shape their thoughts into a replica of our own forcefully. For instance, it is common for lecturers to mark one wrong for giving answers in examinations that do not mirror what they gave in class even though it is entirely right and it shows that the person understood.

    Forcing people into certain boxes kills the future generation. There won’t be significant progress because everyone thinks the same way, and there will be no room for new ideas or innovations. Unless we accept that all people are different and all things are important even if they don’t fit into our boxes, we will never be able to succeed. We will keep making people feel like they lack even when they are super talented. Sadly, it is common to hear teachers call certain students ‘slow learners‘ or ‘dumb ‘ and ‘stupid’ when they don’t catch up with their mates even when they are good at drawing or dancing or singing or building things with their hands – this rhetoric is harmful as it erases individual differences; people have different development pace, and that is fine.

    Art especially is something that is looked down upon. In fact, it is a common belief that smart people go for science courses and the dumb ones go for art courses, and this is the reason why a lot of parents force their children into paths they don’t want just because they are considered ‘good courses’.

    I could remember sometime during the first weeks of law school, a lecturer asked students if they wanted law and what they would have loved to do and most of the people that answered talked about art. Some wanted to be musicians, actors or writers but somehow due to parental pressure and expectations, they find themselves studying a five-year course plus another year of law school which is a lot of sacrifice for something one doesn’t like. People will say ‘but at least this is a good course, and it will help them in the near future’, but how can something capable of affecting one’s mental health be the best for them?

    Boxes, more boxes and the mental health

    Students are prone to mental issues due to a lot of reasons, and the fact that most government universities in Nigeria are not conducive for learning is not helping matters. Most times students have to battle lack of basic amenities and good environment, unfair system, lecturers that play God alongside other problems and that can push anyone to the brink.

    Our educational system does not have provisions for things that will cater to the mental health of students; on the contrary, it works more towards breaking it than helping it. We do not have school counsellors, even when we do; they have the same box mentality with the people around us. No one wants to take their fears to someone who will simply wave it off or tell them to suck it up without understanding where they are coming from.

    You may want to read: Tips for parents: Raising a self-confident child

    Paper qualifications burn more than interest 

    Too much emphasis on paper qualification is slowly killing us, and we don’t even realize it. Students are more focused on passing no matter what it takes than actually learning because they know that it isn’t what they know that matters or what they can do but rather what they happen to get in school which usually isn’t always their actual score. And this has led to an increase in examination malpractice especially in a country that is corrupt like Nigeria.

    Another issue that arises from this emphasis on paper qualification is the fact that students are more concerned about reading to pass than actually gaining knowledge.
    Paper qualification makes every nation miss out on great talent – some people’s abilities lie not in what they can read or write but what they can do and also some may not be good at expressing themselves the way the teacher or the lecturer wants, and that can make them get less than they deserve in schools .Another reason that makes focusing too much on paper qualification faulty is the fact that some don’t even get the opportunities that will make them get this qualification even if they deserve to be there due to our failed educational system. 

    In conclusion

    Looking at most of the issues affecting our educational system, it usually always comes down to understanding people and how they function. If we do that we will be able to curb like 50% of our related educational problems especially those concerning teachers relationships with students as well as laying too much emphasis on paper qualifications.
    Another way we can salvage our educational system is by doing our best to make sure that undeserving people do not get into teaching positions and one may ask how we can do that? Well, for starters we can start by not protesting when incompetent teachers get sacked and also focus more on qualification rather than connections when choosing custodians of our educational system as well as stop normalizing bad behaviour from such people.
    And parents need to do better in trying to choose the ‘best ‘ for their children; you may not always know what’s best for another human.

    The whole system itself needs serious work in terms of identifying problems and understanding that education itself entails a lot of things apart from long lectures on the same topic.

    Yes, all teachers may not be trained enough to handle or recognize learning disabilities and things such as social anxiety but they should at least be one person in a school who understands that instead of having ‘counsellors’ that have little or no knowledge of human behaviour who sometimes in unfortunate circumstances prey on students instead of helping them. In order words, we all need to do better and hold those in charge of the system accountable. Yes, it is true that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was built, wasn’t it?

    Check out: Effective ways to engage students in learning

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