Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Teachers: the major cause of poor performance of students in schools?

It is a great honour to be considered an “expert” at anything. We often see in the media where persons who have been invited to panels to talk about or (analyse?) issues are introduced as experts in their fields. Any field may have many experts as we would have discovered. In education, for example, there are experts in curriculum, experts in assessments, experts in teaching, experts in inspection and experts in education itself, all types of experts.

A number of these experts are convinced (as a result of their presumed expertise on the matter) that teachers are the major impediments to students’ optimal performance in the classroom. They seem to derive this conclusion by cursorily examining high performing schools which share similar characteristics with low performing schools. Some of these high performing schools have large classes, for example. Yet their students learn, they argue, as opposed to students in the same situation in low performing schools. Class size, therefore, is not an impediment to learning they fallaciously conclude. 

These experts discount other factors like the screening process which these high performing schools at the primary level, for example, engage in to ensure that they get the best students. The Ministry of Education does the screening for secondary schools with some schools getting the best students and the other schools getting the rest. Furthermore, they ignore the disparities in environments in which the schools operate. Moreover, these experts discount other factors which may negatively impact students’ learning such as students’ attitude to learning, students’ learning abilities, the value parents place on education, salaries, working conditions, leadership among a very long list of other such factors which may negatively impact performance of both teachers and students in schools.

These experts declare that it is the teachers’ job to effect learning in students. Environmental factors are secondary to the teachers’ primary function. Teachers must be mindful of this fact and get the job done, these experts say.

Experts seem to believe that there is a fool-proof formula which teachers must use to effect learning in students. At the end of following a step by step approach to instruction, all forty-five students (if that is the number of students in the class) would have “been reached” by the teacher.

By the way, in the past when teachers in training were introduced to the art of writing lesson plans the objectives were framed in a hopeful manner. That is, “at the end of the lesson students should be able to...” and the teacher in training would list at least three objectives. The objectives were thus framed because it was understood that there were some students by virtue of a number of factors within and outside of their control who would not achieve everything the lesson was intended to achieve.

Today, it seems that teachers are being instructed to frame objectives in a positive, concrete way which declares the knowledge that a positive outcome will be achieved at the end of the lesson, in spite of everything else which may be happening to the student at that time. For example, instead of stating that students should be able at the end of the lesson to display certain behaviours, teachers are being encouraged to state categorically that at the end of the lesson students will be able to display the desired behaviours which the lesson intended. The rationale for this change as explained by one of these experts in education is that teachers will now put in the required effort to ensure the desired outcome in students, as if they were not doing so before.

Now, I will agree that there are some teachers who do not have the will to utilise every available strategy to ensure student learning. But many do. And in spite of the best efforts of these hard working teachers, a number of students will still be on the periphery of the learning process at the end of each lesson. This must not be, according to the experts.

These experts are ignoring the fact that the teaching learning process is a collaborative one. It is also one of compromise. For the teacher to achieve her/his goal which is student learning, he/she has to be willing to, in an innovative way, give something – the content of the lesson as well as feedback. For the students to achieve their goal in this setting (it must be acknowledged that many students do not yet have any goals where education is concerned) they will have to come to class with the “right” attitude – being willing to listen, to ask questions (if this is allowed), to do the assignments.

The oft used statement that you can lead the donkey to the water but you can’t force it to drink is apt here. We should also realise that the donkey may have wanted to drink but there are impediments which are preventing it from doing so. It is the same with students. Some students actively rebel at schooling as those who have been in the classroom for even a little while will tell you. Others by virtue of whatever deficit they possess find it difficult to grasp what is being taught while others will grasp instruction with little effort exerted by the teacher.

It is quite de-motivating to teachers who are, and have always been trying every strategy to get their students to learn without achieving the success which they would like, to be told that they are not doing enough. Experts must also give equal weight to the other factors which may negatively impact students’ performance in the contexts in which the teaching/learning process takes place when they assess the teachers’ performance. In addition, since they have the “answers” to students’ performance probably they should spend at least a week in one of the “failing” schools conducting the lessons so that teachers and students may learn from them. 

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The world is changing and has always been

Proponents of a critical pedagogy to be used in the teaching/learning process from Paulo Freire in his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) to more recent academics such as Joe Kincheloe and Peter McLaren, among others, have put forward cogent arguments for its use. They believe that if educators employ a critical pedagogy in the classroom they will be contributing to the liberation of students from oppressive influences. This is possible because in employing this critical pedagogy, teachers will be providing students with the tools to interrogate and challenge any facet of life which they believe is oppressive. The proponents of the use of critical pedagogy in the teaching/learning process believe that doing so is necessary for students to become critical thinkers. And critical thinkers have the tools to change their world to a state which they deem to be desirable. And this desirable state is one in which democratic principles are fostered.

The oppressive conditions from which people are encouraged to free themselves seem to be acts, omissions and situations which go against a very general notion of democracy. These oppressive conditions seem to be ones in which all kinds of freedoms are restricted. Therefore, situations like race relations, gender relations, and sexual relations seem to be atop the list of priorities of oppressive situations which a critical pedagogy will prepare people to question and then change. Of course, there are a number of other situations which the literature on this critical pedagogy deems as being oppressive.

For example, the curricula taught in schools have come in for questioning. However, the extent to which proponents of a critical pedagogy encourage students to question the content of schooling is questionable. But if they do, students may begin to ask, is the content of education oppressive? They may look for answers by questioning the rules, content and methodology of education. 

Having developed the tools to interrogate the status quo and being engaged in the interrogation of it, many of those who are so involved may develop different perspectives about it. As a result, they will proffer varying explanations of and solutions for any problems they have identified. Whose perspective and whose solution is “correct”? And whose perspective or whose solution is adopted to remedy whatever malady is identified?

More often than not, it is the perspective and solution of those who possess powerful capital whether intellectual or otherwise who make the decision that their reading of the situation is the “correct” one. Therefore through the mass media and other sources they provide society with a “blueprint” which everyone is expected to follow. The law is used to give force to this “blueprint”. Those who disregard this “blueprint” in favour of their perspective which they have arrived at from their engagement in the process of critical thinking, a process which has brought them to a different place from that of the controllers of powerful capital are named and shamed. That is, the spotlight is focused on them because not accepting the “blueprint” is deemed as being a wrong and an offence.

This is social engineering at work, here. Throughout history, those who possess powerful capital have been leading the process of social engineering. These are the “critical thinkers”. They have devised ways of life that fit in with their thinking of their time. They have decided what is right and what is wrong or that right and wrong are relative concepts. They expect society to accept their dictates. Those who do not are suitably punished.

As society has progressed new thinkers have emerged who have devised new perspectives of what the world should be like. They aggressively market their perspectives. There are buyers who buy and, in turn, sell these perspectives to the rest of society. When we say the world is changing, we are saying that we have accepted new modes of being which “critical thinkers” have told us are the best for this period and are enacting them in society.

We are seeing much of this happening through the process of socialisation where powerful agents of socialisation such as the mass media and the education system are leading the charge. The concept of performativity is being played out. Performativity as explained in a previous article may be seen as a process of speaking things into being. Words are that powerful but other texts have been discovered to be as equally powerful. So through many discourses whether by word or any other texts society is being shown the image of what this new world should look like. This is the new status quo which is being created.

In the future, others will have another perspective of what their world ought to look like, what is good and what is bad. And they will begin a process of re-creating the world to suit their new sensibilities.

The goal of critical pedagogy is to create a world in which oppression is eradicated because the proponents believe that all human beings have an inalienable right to be free, an idea which was popularised by the founding fathers of the United States of America. What is interesting, though, is that many who have got and are getting relief from their sources of oppression will, inadvertently, find ways to oppress those who do not fully share their beliefs. This has been the way of the world throughout history.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Personality types, impeding or progressing performance in public sector organisations (Part 2)

The previous article mentioned the work which psychologists have done on personality and stated that their findings have been used by businesses to fit the “right” types of personalities with the “right” jobs. This article will explore the issue of whether or not personality impacts the performance in the public sector and how. It will specifically focus on the legacy of slavery and how this legacy has shaped personalities.

Slavery is a period of history characterised by lack. There was a lack of autonomy on the part of the slaves. The slaves lacked power. They lacked material things which their masters took for granted. The rulers during that period controlled all power – economic, educational, political, among the other sources of power. They were the examples which the slaves used to measure success. To achieve any measure of power the slaves perceived that education was key.

As such, this message has been passed on to subsequent generations. And there has since then been a determined effort on the part of many parents to give their children the best education because they truly believe that “education is [indeed] the key to success”. After their children have achieved this success, they can live vicariously through them.

After achieving this success/power, how is it manifested in the world of work, especially in the public sector? It is manifested through the personality traits which the persons in power display in their interaction with those whom they supervise.

First, many of those who occupy positions of leadership in the public sector are arrogant in dealing with those whom they consider to be inferior to them. This arrogance may take any of several forms. On the one hand, many in positions of leadership are quite opinionated, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but they display unwillingness to compromise because they are sure their position on any issue is the best one. The opinion of subordinates is not welcome, no matter how reasoned. After “shooting down” the opinion of subordinates, they will ask, “Are you telling me how to do my job, now?” They are in charge. They should provide all the answers.

On the other hand, many persons in positions of leadership in public sector organisations display their arrogance by not deigning to actively participate in any of the task oriented activities whether the critical operating tasks or the strategic management tasks of the organisation (borrowing the concepts from Kiggundu, M. 1995), except for signing documents. They believe in fully delegating all responsibilities to subordinates. They occupy the top position in the organisation because they have worked for it. It is now time for others to work. And they wield whips of acid tongues in controlling subordinates.

Furthermore, their arrogance is displayed in their willingness to ignore policies sent down by their superiors if they are convinced that following these policies will not yield the outcome which they believe is best for all, even though their views are contrary to the views of the majority.  

However, when these persons in positions of leadership meet those persons in higher positions of leadership than they, persons whom they perceive as being superior to them by virtue of status conferred by education, wealth or other sources of power, their arrogance dissipates. They become grovelling, obsequious beings willing to go more than the extra mile to satisfy the needs of these people. They are out of their elements. They again gain control when they are back in their sphere of influence.

Second, many persons in positions of leadership in the public sector develop a lack of empathy the farther up in the organisation they move. They remember all the little inconveniences they had suffered at the hands of unwitting colleagues. They hold grudges and they take pleasure in “paying back” all those whom they perceive have wronged them. They do this by withholding benefits and information, overlooking them for promotion, spreading propaganda about those whom they see as rivals – basically marginalising opponents, perceived or real. As a result, there is constant effort being exerted in the organisation, not necessarily to achieve the objectives of the organisation, but to maintain or improve one’s position.

Chinua Achebe in his novel, A Man of the People, through the narrator likened the actions of one of the major characters Nanga, the politician, to a person who when it is raining seeks shelter in a building. Other people try to come inside out of the rain but this person bolts the door. No matter the entreaties of those outside, this person is deaf to their cries. This anecdote sums up the actions of many persons who occupy positions of leadership in the public sector.

How is the legacy of slavery to be blamed for these personality traits which many in positions of leadership in the public sector display? The legacy of slavery has left a psychological imprint. And, it has affected people differently. Today, it is the quest for status, for power, for self worth, for respect, for material things to replace the lack which history has left many people with that is guiding the actions of those who have achieved success/power. And, having achieved success/power, they must wear their positions where all may see it so that they may get the respect which they believe they deserve.
So, does personality type impede or progress performance in public sector organisations?

Probably, researchers who are interested in the study of personalities may want to explore this issue in the context of the public sectors of developing states which are trying to emerge from under the shadow of past oppression. The findings, no doubt, will enrich the existing literature on personality.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Personality types, impeding or progressing performance in public sector organisations

A number of scholars who are affiliated with the field of Psychology have done empirical research on the concept, personality (Do a cursory online search or consult any management text to interrogate their findings). Much of this research have been applied to the world of business organisations and work as it is believed that personality type is a good predictor of performance on the job.

It has been reported in the literature on management that, as a result of the work done by scholars in the area of personality, personality tests have been developed which have been used by a number of business corporations to screen potential staff. The research has indicated that there may be a link between personality and job fit. So to achieve effectiveness and efficiency in the work place these businesses are attempting to match personality types with ideal jobs.
What are the personality types which have been isolated by these scholars? The Myers-Biggs Type Indicator (MBTI) shows us sixteen personality types. If we peruse the descriptions of these types, we may recognise ourselves in a number of them. Then there is the Five-factor model which, as the name suggests, shows us five categories of personality types. These categories are based on extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and openness to experience.

Other scholars, and no doubt laymen/women, have identified personality traits/characteristics which we as human beings exhibit. For example, we are described as being quiet, passive, loud, aggressive, ambitious, extroverted, highly strung, sociable, controlling, and so on. Other scholars go as far as to classify personalities according to whether they are Type A or Type B. Type A personalities according to them are characterised by an excess of competitiveness and constant hurry. Type B personalities, on the other hand, are characterised as being easy going, gregarious and accepting of change. Many of these scholars have not neglected to mention that environmental among other factors impact personality.

From reading the work of scholars in this area of study, we get the sense that personality refers to a person’s character as defined by a number of dominant traits which this person is believed to possess. We infer personality type based on the nature of the person’s interaction with others.

Does personality type impact performance in the public sector and how? A number of scholars on Caribbean Public Administration have posited that the institution of slavery which existed overtly for more than three hundred years in the English speaking Caribbean has left deep psychological scars on its people which are impacting every facet of their life today. Other scholars and non-scholars within and outside of the region have disparaged this notion saying that continuously blaming our shortcomings on slavery is counterintuitive. It’s time that we take responsibility for our issues.

The latter may be right. I have not done any empirical research on the issue to prove otherwise. However, I am willing to engage in some “arm chair” theorising about it. I am agreeing with the former view that the psychological legacy of slavery still continues unchecked in the region. It manifests itself in the personality of many a Caribbean person who has found her/himself in positions of power (in the public sector). I will show how this is evident in the next instalment of this article.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

You can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

There is a saying that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. To what extent is this saying applicable to teachers who have been in the education system for many, many years?

The educational landscape is continually changing as a result of changes in the wider environment. Let us briefly examine three changes in the educational landscape here.

First, the educational landscape is changing in terms of modes of disciplining students. This is a major change in some educational systems. There was a time when teachers, mostly in the primary schools, would punish misbehaving, inattentive students by issuing corporal punishment. Some teachers swear by the efficacy of this punishment in getting students to display the desired behaviour in the classroom.

Corporal punishment, today, is deemed by the experts to be cruel and inhumane punishment. Instead, these experts suggest that teachers use positive reinforcement to get the desired behaviour from students. However, it seems that for many students being whipped is positively correlated with performance because now that corporal punishment is removed from the classroom, many students have put down their pencils and pens.

According to one teacher, she offered incentives to students in her low performing class in an attempt to encourage them to do the work she had assigned to them. Most students rejected her effort by saying that they could buy their own treats. Taking these students to the principal and calling in their parent/s yield the same result, no change in behaviour.

Probably the advocates of using positive reinforcement in the classroom need to hold practical workshops with teachers in schools where they demonstrate to teachers in lessons they conduct with these students how to get results without the use of force. Because, many teachers have mentally given up on students who are disruptive and inattentive and who do not display any desire to learn. These teachers are still harping on the “good old days” when the strap was king in the classroom.

Second, another change in the educational landscape is the change in teaching tools. Teachers have not found it too difficult to transition from blackboards to whiteboards. However, many teachers still have a difficulty incorporating Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) into their classes.

Third, the educational landscape is changing in terms of the proliferation of knowledge(s) on issues in education which have been informing methodology in the classroom. While I take issue with a government agency sending down a prescribed teaching methodology to the schools which every teacher is expected to faithfully follow, I welcome the ever expanding knowledge base in education. This research can help teachers to gain insights into the issues with which they are grappling in the classroom.

How are teachers coping in this environment? Are “older” teachers willing to adapt to these changes, or are they allowing these changes to pass them by?

A number of teachers are, indeed, allowing these changes to pass them by. They can do this when they work in environments that have remained traditional and where there is no emphasis by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the school leadership on continuous professional development (CPD).

The MOE has been hinting at introducing CPD into the schools. A number of teachers with whom I spoke would like to have their schools introduce regular seminars where they can upgrade their skills. Some teachers, however, are wary of the introduction of CPD in schools. Some argue that after one leaves college with a diploma and goes on to do a first degree and later a Masters degree that person has upgraded. It does not matter that these degree were done ten years ago. These teachers seem to be ignoring the word “continuous” in the name of the activity, CPD. Another concern of teachers is the cost of this CPD. Who will bear the burden of this cost? After all, teachers are not being paid much now to afford to invest anything in training, some say. Furthermore, some teachers ask, when will these sessions be held? If the idea is to have these training sessions over the summer break, these teachers will not be onboard.

The MOE has, in all its efforts to improve educational output, left CPD out of the equation. Teachers have been used to doing things their way, without much monitoring for a long time. To get them to embrace the idea of CPD, whatever programme which is developed cannot be generic, but should be specific to the issues with which teachers are currently grappling in the schools and it must be subject specific. It should also involve the sharing of “new” methodologies and information. Otherwise, the MOE will be wasting its resources.

So, can old dogs be taught new tricks? The jury is still out on this one.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

One size fits all?

Scholars and politicians in developing societies often complain that multilateral agencies have a tendency to devise “one size fits all” policies to overcome the challenges to development which these societies face. These scholars and politicians argue that the challenges which developing countries face are often unique to them. Therefore, these countries require individual prescriptions, they say.

However, the governments in relation to their responsibility to the different sectors within these countries continue to develop “broad-based”, “one size fits all” policies to correct the maladies they identify in different areas within the sectors of society.

Take the schools for example. There are different types of schools. Each type of school has students with different abilities, academic or otherwise. Each type of school or each individual school has its own problems which, oftentimes, are unique to it.

Oftentimes, the Ministry of Education (MOE) “discovers” a “problem” in a school or some schools. The MOE then goes through a process of devising a “solution” for this problem with the help of its “experts,” often excluding representatives from the schools. The MOE expects that all schools will implement its “solution” which will address the “problem”.

However, the MOE needs to rely more than they do now on the leadership of schools to create and roll out their own interventions to solve their problems.

Some principals of schools may see a role as the above as an added responsibility which they would rather do without. Many of them now look to the MOE for guidance on how to treat with the problems which their schools experience. But they are the managers on the ground. They should not be afraid to consult the policies which the MOE has devised to deal with problems in schools then modify these policies to suit their situations.

“Empowerment” is a buzz word in many circles. Are principals of schools empowered? Do they feel empowered? Do they want to be empowered? For a long time, the government has been taking action to force schools to stand on their “own feet”. This is a sort of empowerment of principals who are now forced to be innovative as they take responsibility for the management of their schools towards achieving positive outcomes for their students and the communities in which they are sited.

If principals, after being instructed on their responsibilities as principals, accept the job and fail to make a difference in the outcomes of their schools, the MOE should relieve them of their appointments and install others who relish the challenges of leadership.

A number of principals are in the education system who have found themselves responsible for schools with a myriad of problems and have, over time, managed to transform their schools. We need more principals in the system who are up to the challenge of totally running their schools. That is, maintaining the discipline in the school, presiding over improved performance on the part of their staff and students, managing the financial demands of their schools and managing school and community relations.

The MOE is not doing these principals any favours when it tries to micro manage every aspect of the schools. It should ensure that the principals who occupy such positions as principals have responsibility to fully manage their schools, but put in place measures to hold them accountable.

It is obvious from following what is happening in schools that one size does not fit all when it comes to the issues with which schools are grappling.