Getting back to the basics is the way forward in education. Before students can excel in their studies, they need a good grounding in literacy (speaking, reading and writing) and numeracy. Present-day numeracy skills also cover computer literacy. These are the basic skills that can help students in almost all disciplines. Those in the arts need a strong foundation in literacy, and those in the sciences need a strong foundation in numeracy. Computer literacy helps students in both these disciplines.
These skills, when honed early, will help students develop other skills later. Studies have shown that literacy skills can enhance students’ thinking and creative skills when they embark on higher-level education. It will make learning specialised subjects easier and more meaningful.
Language is the most complex area of human cognition. Certain linguistic structures are already encoded in children’s brains, giving them an innate ability to pick up languages even within a short period of time. They also have a unique natural ability to develop highly complex linguistic systems – an aptitude that lies in their genes but is also moulded by the environment.
Students who are unable to cope with literacy and numeracy in school will find education boring, and many of these may decide to leave school early. But, even if they decide to leave school, they should already be equipped with the basics of these skills. This will help them be more productive and participate fully in their community as well as society at large.
Disinterest and learning disabilities
Research shows that one of the contributing factors to drop-out rates in schools is students’ inability to cope with lessons. The ministry has also identified disinterest and learning difficulties as among some of the other factors.
Students’ failure to complete their formal education is also attributed to their inability to grasp basic literacy and numeracy skills during the first six years of their education. Without a reasonable grounding in these, they lose interest in their studies.
Many weak students find it difficult to read and understand the content of subjects due to poor literacy skills. Others with poor numeracy skills end up battling the nuances of arithmetic beyond the basics of simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Problem-solving topics in subjects like science and mathematics are not easy either for students with poor literacy skills, who must understand the problem before attempting to mentally decipher it.
Even those who don’t drop out of school often drag their feet in fulfilling syllabus demands. Starting early by grounding them in basic literacy and numeracy skills is therefore crucial as it will only get harder as they grow older.
The standard curriculum for all, whether weak or bright, has also affected weak students. Teachers have to rush to complete the syllabus regardless of whether or not students can cope with the lessons. Standard exams measure the topics laid out in the syllabus across the board, which will always be disadvantageous to weaker students.
This ends up being a cumulative problem which becomes increasingly difficult for students as they progress to higher levels. In some other countries, flexible syllabi are adopted to cater to students of different levels, allowing teachers to emphasise effective learning for weaker students and to make the learning process more interesting.
Each child is uniquely talented
A broad-spectrum school curriculum would cater to students with varied interests. No child is born stupid. Each has his or her own talent, intelligence and ability, but if the education system is too exclusive and academically biased, it will pass over students who are not academically inclined.
The euphoria today is always when students achieve academic excellence in general or rote-learning subjects. The curriculum does not cater enough to the diverse and innate ability and aptitude of students.
Do we mean to say that there are no areas beyond rote-learning subjects that would interest students and make them successful in life? There are many who are interested in sports, music, arts and drama, as well as those who are talented in technical matters and handling sophisticated gadgets. Unfortunately, these are not perceived as equally important subjects in school.
The push in schools is for conventional subjects which are generally academically biased. Parents will push their children to study conventional subjects which some students may have no interest in. This will indirectly discourage them from venturing into areas in which they have an innate ability like art and music. This is a waste of human talent.
So many school dropouts have made it in life. Many have become successful businesspeople, technicians, artists and musicians despite not getting a secondary or tertiary education. Many are more successful than those who graduate from university.
Vocational or technical schools should diversify their curricula to cater for students with an assortment of talents. They should be upgraded to be on par with academically focused schools and perceived by parents as schools of choice for students who have an aptitude for non-academic subjects.
The roadmap to success in any progressive education system is when the school curricula cater for students’ varied interests and abilities. This is what will help keep them in school.
Moaz Nair is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.