Sunday, 29 March 2015

The School and Society

Education officials question the quality of the output from the schools, colleges and universities. They also take issue with the quality of the teachers in some of these places of learning and their ability to effect learning in students.

The business community questions the quality of the output from the schools, colleges and universities. Members of this community also take issue with the quality of the teachers and their ability to effect the kind of learning that they would like to see students exhibit.

Teachers question the ability of some of their students to learn as well as their motivation to learn. In addition, they question the role of parents in their children's learning. They also take issue with government's provision to the education sector.

Parents see their children as the smartest and most capable students who have ever graced the walls, virtual or otherwise, of classrooms. Therefore, they believe that their children can learn much and if they do not, it is the teachers' fault.

Many students are content with their educational performance in their schools, colleges and universities and are wondering what all the fuss that is being made by education officials, the business community, their teachers and their parents is all about. Meanwhile, some students blame their teachers for their unsatisfactory performance.

Other members of society, people who occupy specific geographical spaces and share a culture, also take issue with the output from the schools, colleges and universities. They blame either the teachers or the government or parents or the communities that are home to students or the students or all of the above.

While the performance of students in the education system is a main priority of certain groups and individuals in society, they have other concerns on their long list of priorities with regard to the education system. Their list is made up of what they see as problems in the education system for which they want solutions - now! For example, they are concerned about the following:

  • Violence in schools - all types of violence
  • Indiscipline. That is, the disrespect displayed by students to each other, to adults, to authority figures, to things...
  • Teachers' wardrobe and behaviour
  • Teachers'/students' relationships
  • Amount of resources provided by the government for schools
  • Social class and its effects on students' performance in school, as well as the treatment of students as a result of their social status...

Their list of concerns is a long one.

Education officials from government agencies are calling on schools - the Heads of schools, colleges and universities - to take steps to eradicate those identified problems, that are internal ones, from their campuses by using all "appropriate" and "approved" means at their disposal.

The students (at the lower levels of the education system) are precious, they say. They are the future of society so should be properly trained (Do we still talk about socialising children into society?) If we still do, then being properly trained means socialisation (into what society at a point in time deems to be positive values) i.e. preparing them to take their roles (whatever these are) in society. And this is exactly what the universities and colleges ought to do as well, according to the education officials.

But, we should never forget that before the students, the teachers, the administrative and ancillary staff enter, physically or virtually, through the gates of the school, they are already being shaped by a society which is an extension of the family relationships, the religious communities, the friendship groups, the political groups, the other social groups, the electronic media and other media. They are being shaped by all the relations that are at play in the geographical spaces in which they have their being.

As a result of this "shaping" that members of the school community undergo, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, when they enter this learning space, the school, they bring with them their own values, beliefs - their way of being. Instead of this mix being put into a melting pot and combined, hopefully creating something better, tolerance perhaps, all these facets of the immediate school community are kept separate. But when they accidentally or intentionally bump into each other, conflict ensues. This conflict mirrors exactly what happens in the society outside of the borders of the school.

The school and the society are therefore one and the same.

So those persons who refer to the school as a microcosm of society are quite right. The school is society, a tiny replica. The problems that are identified in the schools are the same problems that are existent in the wider society. That is, in the home, in religious groups, in the communities, in the economic and political spheres of society - in the country as a whole.

The school leaders in schools labeled as "worst" schools (or otherwise negatively labeled) who manage to solve the problems identified in their schools - schools that are grappling with the unsatisfactory performance of teachers, students and other members of staff; indiscipline, violence and so on - and who manage to increase the satisfaction levels of staff and students in their schools, their level of performance thus the quality of their output, the satisfaction levels of members of the wider community in which schools are sited, thus their tangible support for the school, have earned the right to take on the rigors of managing their countries. Because it is these same "problems" - "problems" in the wider society which evolve at different points in time and which have persisted over time - that successive leaders of their countries tried and failed to solve during their tenure in office.

The school does, indeed, have a role to play in "socialising" members of society into society's norms and values. But, does the school have a role to create new norms and values in their students? And if they do, whose values?

When we talk about the role of the school in society, we should remember that the school does not operate in a vacuum.  It is only one small part of the fabric of society. Thus, society is the school and the school is society.

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