August 19, 2016

Why do our children need so much extra help with their school lessons?

Why do our children need so much extra help with their school lessons?  Do people still ask this question, or has it become so commonplace that people do not bother with asking this question and simply do not bother with finding an answer, and do what they have to do? Do also teachers think about it?  As everyone accepts that education is the basis for individual as well as national development, children from poor families are to be complacent with what is taught at school but  parents who have the means seek help outside the school to supplement what is taught to their children at school.  For many students, gradually what is taught in class is being replaced by what is taught outside the school as the main instruction.
Those who have an interest in the quality of education, the government, education authorities, school heads, teachers, parents and community leaders all should be greatly concerned that many schools are neither performing their best, nor giving serious attention to their main responsibilities of teaching, and nurturing good citizens. Schools and teachers are beginning to lose their influence on many students, and the confidence in and respect that students and their parents have for them are also rapidly waning.  Many feel that this needs to be redressed quickly, because a large number of schools are becoming mere day care centres for children of working parents, and not as centres of learning that provide knowledge, life skills, good citizenship and all-round development.
Without much profound thinking and research, one can identify many of the causes of the decline in the role of schools in the education of students, just by listening to the complaints of parents. They point to unprincipled teachers as one of the main reasons.  But before we discuss the harm being caused by these unscrupulous teachers (the ones who adorn themselves with huge diamond earrings, lockets and rings to show off their extra income, success and price) in the growing loss in confidence in schools and teachers by parents and students, we need to acknowledge and express our profound appreciation to the hard work and personal sacrifices of many dedicated teachers who with worn-out slippers and shabby clothes unfailing turn up to teach their students (my former teachers topping the list). They make great efforts to get to their schools on time, rain or sunshine, using various means of cheap public transport, hitchhiking, riding rickety bicycles, or walking for hours.  In ramshackle schools with few teaching aids, they use whatever skills they possess to disseminate what is presented in the textbooks to their students. In addition to their main responsibilities, these teachers are conscripted by education and local authorities into giving so called voluntary service ranging from welcoming dignitaries, serving as part of the audience at opening ceremonies, and taking part in local as well as national development activities such as elections, referenda and literacy campaigns (which they are quite happy to participate in).
What are some of the underlying reasons related to the general decline in teacher quality? One reason is the attitude of some teachers towards their profession.  Unlike three or four decades ago, some became teachers not for the love of teaching but because there was no other job available. Some became teachers drawn by the extra income from tuitions than from the love for the profession. Some became teachers because they felt it was an easy job. Some felt that they were being badly paid, and so they felt that their job does not merit their best.
Another reason for the fall in teacher quality is the poor quality of training provided by some teacher training institutions, partly caused by outdated curriculum, the poor quality of the teaching materials, lack of attention to methodology, and inadequate facilities and teaching aids at training institutions. Another reason is the quality of instruction at teacher training institutions. Many of the instructors, knowingly or unknowingly, do not exert the amount of effort, interest and creativity needed in lesson preparation and training their students.  In addition, poor management of teacher training institutions adds to the woes.  Managing a teacher training institution, be they colleges, or universities, requires much ability, experience, interest, dynamism, creativity, dedication and the right qualifications, and at some teacher training institutions, administrators lack such qualities, and as a result both the institution and trainees suffer. Moreover, some leaders of departments, the heads, devote their time more to getting promotion, showing off their authority, and competing with one another, rather than to improving the quality of their departments, staff and trainees, thereby setting a bad example to their staff and students.
At the same time, one must say, with great sadness and anxiety that another reason for the deterioration in teacher quality is the decline in the awareness of the traditional roles assigned to Myanmar teachers, in many teachers, and a sharp increase in selfishness in them, especially those serving in cities and towns.  They exercise little restraint when it comes to making extra money, and feel that they as class teachers, have every right to openly conduct tuition classes just as doctors employed by the government are allowed to do private practice, and some even exert pressure on their students to attend their private classes. It is common knowledge that to force their students to attend their tuitions, some teachers use numerous dirty tricks such as, doing minimal teaching in class, treating badly the students who do not attend their tuition by finding excuses to mete out punishment, practicing favourtism, or ignoring them, and familiarizing students with test questions in their tuitions, giving extra marks in tests to students who attend their tuitions, giving marks only to answers they have provided in their tuitions although there are other possible answers, and forming networks among tuition-giving teachers to provide special services to their tuition students.  Adding to the miseries of the students is the tribe of lazy and incompetent teachers who make no effort to improve their teaching. Worst still are the teachers who are present at school, but do not take classes, or do so with little preparation and interest, with the excuse that students are not interested in their teaching, as they have learnt everything at their tuitions, or with the inexcusable reason that they are forced to teach subjects that they have not taught before. Both these groups of teachers get away with their irresponsible acts, simply because their heads and school inspectors do not check them, or because they have good connections, i.e. they know persons who are feared by their superiors. The problem is compounded at some schools, especially in remote areas, by the inadequate number of teachers appointed, because of teachers going on long leave, with heads and township education officers turning a blind eye to it for obvious reasons. In addition to these problems is the need for students to find occasions to appease greedy teachers with presents such as their birthdays, Thadinkyut, Tazaungdaing, New Year, beginning of the new academic year, etc. etc. etc. It is no wonder that although the country has introduced free education at schools, parents still complain about the high cost of education.
One might want to ask why parents do not lodge complaints against these corrupt, incompetent, lazy and sometimes ruthless teachers. A few bold parents do, and many want to complain, but parents, especially those in the rural areas dare not do so, for fear of reprisals against their children. Their attitude is that the poor quality education is better than no education at all, and being ignored is far better than being targeted for unwarranted punishments.  Parents who can afford to, or are able to scrimp and save enough money, transfer their children to private schools in the hope of escaping from the clutches of these greedy and corrupt teachers.
Teachers often say that their reputation is being hurt by a few corrupt teachers. The question is “Is it only one rotten fish that is spoiling the name of the whole boatload?  Although nobody from the education sector has deemed it a worthy topic to conduct research on, bearing in mind the large number of complaints from parents, the number of teachers giving tuition does not appear to be small, and the amount of money that parents, even the ones with low income, have to spend on tuition fees each month is quite large.
It is high time that measures are taken to balance personal interests with national interests and to deal with the greedy, the corrupt, the lazy, the incompetent, the unmotivated, the vicious and the uncaring among teachers and education administrators, so that their number will not increase, public trust in schools and teachers will not be further eroded, and that they will not be a hindrance to the effort being made to raise the standard of education in the country and ensure that education plays its rightful role in the social and economic development of the country.


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