You Shall Not Pass! (on first try)
We just finished the second of three terms at school, and I handed out the report cards showing the grades. Everyone passed. But the reason is, simply put, because there is no possibility to fail.
Our school works with the homeschooling system. The student can study at his/her preferred speed. Some of my students finished two grades within one year, or two within three years. It sounded amazing to me, as it seemingly only depended on your level of motivation, when you finish your grade.
But there are some hurdles which are quite tough to pass:
Dilemma 1: Haste
Frequently, my students tell me: “Mr teacher, I cannot do this, I am too stupid.”
And I ask them, “What do you have to do, and what is the problem?”
“I don’t know what I have to do.”
“Did you read the instructions for the task?”
“No, I just want to do it. I want to do the tests and finish my grade!”
The problem is simple: the pressure is on finishing tests and grades, not on learning a language properly and doing your work well. They end up leaving out tasks which they don’t understand or feel like doing. They get angry with the teacher when he/she tells them that they cannot skip tasks: “Teacher, you are blocking me from advancing, I want to finish my book!” or “Ah, teacher, you don’t like me!”, as if working well and studying was a punishment.
Dilemma 2: Buddy system
The setting would be perfect for a buddy system, where students help each other out: older students, or those who are more advanced already, could help out those who are struggeling. I’d love to utilize that system. Problem: “buddy” too often means they hand over their books and copy-paste the results, including errors. Learning progress: zero.
Another problem: conflict. Maybe that’s just my class, but there are verbal and manual (to the face) fights nearly every day. Buddy system means communication, and communication means noise, that is unavoidable. I’d be fine with that, but sadly whenever I gave it a try – the noise happened, but the work didn’t. Furthermore, instead of helping the other person, the older buddies make fun of the younger students, resulting in a fight.
Dilemma 3: Multiple-choice tests
It’s no news that our educational system is seldomly testing knowledge, abilities or intelligence, but rather only the ability to regurgitate temporally stored information.
We study, not to learn, but to pass exams.
This contradiction reaches a new level when using multiple-choice tests. Now you don’t even have to just learn how to remember things, you can basically stop understanding them at all. In fact, you can pass tests without even having read the questions.
For grade 6-8, which I teach, there are 20 questions on the test. There are three possible answers for each question.
The lowest you could score is 35%, a clear fail. Now the real problem is that students can redo the test without the first try being counted, and being allowed to inspect the former (identic) test sheet. The theoretical score is 70%. Voilà, you passed!
Cheating slips used to be hard work to create, and enhanced the learning process of the author. With multiple choice, a slip that will get you 100% may look like this:
Easy to forge, easy to hide, and no enhancement whatsoever.
The homeschooling system does not give freedom. It just switches positions of teacher and student.
In the classical school system, the teacher is literally and also figuratively in the front of class. He is deciding the speed of learning. If you can’t keep up, you’re left behind and fail. But not matter how fast you think you’re going, you can never really catch up with the Achillean tortoise.
Homeschooling puts the teacher behind the student – again both literally and figuratively. The student decides the speed of learning; The teacher stands behind him, looking over his shoulder and helping him solving problems. But it does not end there. The teacher also has to be like a bulldozer, pushing the student to advance.
So even though it seems that homeschooling is meant to be students doing work in their books on their own, and the teacher just passively in the background in a supportive role, it really is MUCH tougher for the teacher than being in front. He has to rely on the student’s motivation and will to study, and their maturity. Now… how much maturity and eagerness to study can you expect of an average 11-year-old? How about a 6-year-old?
On the bright side:
It’s mango season :) There are around 4-5 different types of mangoes at the local market, with different origin, taste and colour.
I got this beauty (they say it’s a Nigerian Mango) for FCFA 150 (€ 0,23) from across the street of my home.
Otherwise, I’m fine, and recovered well from the Malaria. The kids suspected I had Ebola and recommended I took milk with honey, because that’s what their doctors always tell them.
As I will be enjoying a week of holiday until May 4th, I have some travelling planned. This weekend I will be going to a UPF conference in Gagnoa, northwest of Abidjan. It’s a smaller place, and I usually enjoy the peace and quiet of such places. I’ll keep you updated!