A- Musings: An Open Letter to Gale – Part 2

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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