JCE results: Hands off our teachers!

To whom it may concern The debate on the recently released Junior Certificate Examination results has taken the same pattern as has been the case over the years. The quality of the results themselves has not changed either – if anything, overall performance has continued to decline drastically. Yet I find it curious and somewhat strange to always hear analysts blame the poor quality of results entirely on shortage of books at schools, prohibitive student-teacher ratio, automatic progression, reduced contact time between teachers and learners and general shortage of human and infrastructural resources. In fact, every year after the release of the results, be it PLSE, JCE or BGCSE results, one is certain to see analysts come up with the same old boring ‘education system’ rhetoric. Poor education system blah blahblah! Never anything else. I do agree that the education system is PARTLY to blame and needs some revamp as I will share later, but I find it strange that many of us who have achieved academically in life and those of us who blame the education system, have also gone through the same education system to be where we are. And, incidentally, during our times as primary and secondary students, when our colleagues had performed badly in the final exams, analysts of the time still blamed the education system for their failure. And often, those who blame the education system will never even come up with a solution – some form of advice on what the government can specifically do to change the status quo. They never even elaborate on exactly what area of the education system needs to be changed. Government too, has continued to pour scorn on this widely parroted rhetoric. Strangely, rarely do we ever hear of any analysis that gives insight into the nucleus of the learning process and the attendant dynamics. There is perhaps a serious need to start talking about the issues of behaviour and general conduct with respect to the three important stakeholders in the education web itself – the parent, the student and the teacher. Do students exert enough effort in their own education? Do these students arrive at school with the right frame of mind desirous of participating in the learning process? Do teachers themselves have full commitment towards their role of imparting knowledge and facilitating learning? Is it all of the teachers who really have the passion to facilitate learning? Are the parents themselves bothered about what happens with their children when both at home and at school? Do parents play the desired role in ensuring their children are ready for learning? There has in the past been a temptation to want to blame teachers for the consistency in these poor results. There is talk of teachers who are lazy and do not even give feedback to learners for the entire period of their studies. There are teachers who just do not care about the profession they serve and just go to school for the heck of it while awaiting another pay day. Such cases do exist and are unfortunate, but at the end of it all, it is the student and their parent that have to take more responsibility for their education. The teacher and the school system should be there to facilitate, to guide and to aid learning. You see, Batswana tota rona re loilwe. We are a spoilt nation and without any effort of our own, we always want to point a finger at Government when anything goes wrong. Kana I was shocked maloba when a farmer blamed the death of his cows on Government after nine of them were razed down by a haulage truck en route to Zambia. Government’s fault here was that the barrier fence along the road is not being maintained and because elephants have floored the fence, his cattle wandered into the highway where they would eventually die. I mean really? And this is a guy who only visits the cattlepost twice in a year and has a herd man whose bi-annual pay is a pair of used worn-out trousers, worn-out shirts, worn-out shoes, a 50kg bag of maize meal and cartons of Chibuku. No enclosures or feed bays or any feeds for his cattle whatsoever, and depends on rain to create food for his animals. And such is the mentality that we carry around when things somehow go wrong. We never look at ourselves and the opportunities we are given to eke out a life. We are quick to blame someone else for our self-inflicted mishaps. Even as Government is spending a considerable amount of money on educating our children, we still can’t do our little bit, even if it is just time to be there for our children when needed. For your information, for the financial year 2012/13, government was spending P17 340 on each Junior Secondary School child per annum. I use these old figures because for now they are the ones available to me. Imagine how much that is today, eight years later. And we were later asked to contribute only 5 percent in cost sharing, which many of us are still not doing. What more do we, parents, want? As I say this, several parents are up in arms protesting their children’s JCE results, yet they never cared one little bit to know how their children were doing at school for the three full years they were there. Despite the efforts of the teachers to get them to share in the responsibility of educating their own children, the parents just stayed away and carried on with their own lives. Even where the parents were told of the wayward behaviour of their children in schools, they could not be bothered, only labelling the poor teachers ‘lazy’ and failing to do their job! Now the chickens have duly come home to roost. What should be the shock now? Those who blame the education system are coming out now after the results are released as usual, to vent their ‘frustrations’ when they never bothered to educate parents on the role they need to play in the education of their own children. And it baffles me why these analysts and activists blame the same education system that has seen them become who they are today. And why be selective when we blame the education system? Is the education system only bad when analysing results of those who failed and there is nothing to say about the same education system when looking at the results of those who have done well? Why do other children do well under the same education system? And this is where I believe we need to be going in our analysis of the results – not just to keep saying ‘poor education system’ without really pointing to the real issues. Unfortunately the trends in the modern school are those of unruly students who themselves seem to lack self-motivation and who do not seem to know why they are in school in the first place. And I again blame the parents. History has shown that the performance results of a motivated and committed student are not always dependent on the conduct of their teacher or the situation in the school they attend. In the recent past, Kagiso Senior Secondary School produced the best student in the country when the school was itself the last in the perking order. And this kid, because I know, did not come from a wealthy family - just committed parents to the child’s education. In 2018, Moeding College was ranked Number 20 in line but had a student with 10 A-stars. Such students bear testimony to the fact that with the right motivation and support from parents the status of a school or the character of a teacher counts for nothing. In the end, the behaviour of students and their attitudes towards learning count for more than just the issue of the system or resources. An effort is therefore needed from the child, and there is no better place to cultivate such attitudes than at home. The parents should be the frontline of everything; they should set the right tone and give their child a proper atmosphere to perform. When the child returns from school, they should seek to know what it is the child learnt and set out to assist in the learning at every opportunity. Unfortunately not many parents care – which is why we have had cases of students who would skip school for weeks and the parent would not even be aware. Parental involvement as well as self-motivation and personal responsibility on the part of the students are sadly lacking in our schools today, leading many students towards not turning in assignments and blowing off tests. Learning involves give and take from both the teacher and student, and as it is, the focus cannot always be on blaming the teacher and not acknowledging the other issues precedent.Such issues could be motivation, study habits, academic preparedness, external factors, attitudes and relevance among others. And all these require an interested parent. Analysts and activists who solely attack the education system should note that even if the system can be changed, as long as parents do not come to the party, and children remain wayward, we are wasting our time. It is criminal for teachers to be expected to put aside their core roles so that they do for students what their parents should have done in the first place. May the parents therefore please stand up and be counted, so that we can now discuss the education system – as I begin to do now. Nna tota I think it is high time Government considered that inequalities in our society are innate and we cannot ignore them as we craft our education curriculum. A generic curriculum especially at primary school level is the downfall of many of our children even later at secondary school level. I mean why should a Mosarwa child born and raised in abject poverty deep in the dry and desolate sands of the Kalahari be expected to understand books that depict skyscrapers, ships, aeroplanes and dams among other things so remote to him? As much as it may be costly, can’t we give such communities the type of education that will make sense to them, and allow only those who show signs of superior comprehension to proceed with components of a generic curriculum? Besides, a lot of money is already being spent in education but with no meaningful results. Why not formulate a curriculum that allows children from early childhood education to identify their areas of strength and be slotted in schools that cater for their various talents? We cannot run away from the fact that the poor JCE results are a consequence of how we enrolled the children at primary school level. Vocationalise education from an early age and allow problem solvers, critical thinkers and innovators to progress parallel with one another. (TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK)