Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Education?

Why education is important?

The aim of education is to have rational people in the society for the well being and progress of the society. Education makes people live and react in a rational and disciplined way. Education is not limited to 2+2 or 4x4, nor is it limited to grammar and vocabulary or history and geography. Education is far much beyond all these and includes good manners, discipline, social skills and culture among others. Education helps us live in harmony with other people, the society and the environment. Education helps us better understand how to take care of ourselves (diet, hygiene etc), of our family, of our society and environment. Education also helps us know what are our rights, our limits and responsibility. Education also helps us get access to equal rights and power – that education helps to build democracy as John Dewey stated in his book “Democracy and Education”:
“The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.” (Dewey, John. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan, page 91)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Family and Education

Family background and its impact on achievement and failure

When speaking of family background of an individual one implies the social class to which his family belongs as well as his family history. There is a very close relationship between social class and educational performance. Research pointed out that some ethnic minority students suffered as a result of social and economic deprivation. Pupils from professional backgrounds are significantly more likely to enter higher education than those from unskilled backgrounds. On the other hand, the undervaluing of education by adults combined with more limited career aspiration results in working class pupils viewing schooling as merely a prelude to getting a manual job. In fact, research shows that working class students could not perform well at school due to the conditions in which they lived. They shared beds because of overcrowding and their health was not reliable. They could not concentrate in school if they were hungry (poor diet), ill and tired.

Moreover, pupils from disadvantage backgrounds are more likely to leave school at an early age, some sociologists believe that this is because working class culture is fatalistic - parents passed on the idea that their lower status was relatively fixed. The impact of this was working class children don't see much point in investing time and effort into something which will have no effect on their lives, working class children were also more likely to start school unable to read as working class parents seem to put less emphasis on education and the importance of it this could also be the reason why pupils from unskilled backgrounds on average achieve lower scores in examinations.Basically, there are three main different social classes as follows:

- Elite
- Middle Class
- Working Class
Difference in social classes can be cultural, linguistic or financial. Generally, the elite are more likely to have stronger cultural, linguistic as well as financial capital. The amount of the capitals decreases as one goes down the social pyramid.

Cultural capital refers to non-financial assets that involve social, educational and intellectual knowledge available to certain families. Such families may have as members writers, ministers, musicians and others who do not earn much financially but are rather very influential on making their children get facilities to acquire education because of their social status and intellectual capacity. According to Bourdieu, who was the first one to talk about cultural capital, middle class are at an advantage because they have the right kind of cultural capital - the right language, skills, knowledge and attitudes. This is because of the fact that teachers are from middle class themselves and therefore share the same values and beliefs as children from the middle class. So schools perpetuate middle class values.

Also, middle class families pass on culture and expectations from parents to children, this is called cultural reproduction, and due to this because the parents from a middle class family have high expectations. This pushes their children to work hard at school and to pursue further studies as they believe they need a good education to get a good job.

Linguistic capital refers to the capacity of mastering specific languages. This is highly influenced by exposure to such languages. The language spoken at home may also be an important factor affecting students’ achievement. For example, in some countries, the language spoken at home may not be the same as the medium of teaching, especially if parents are immigrants. This may lead to students feeling less confident about written and oral work thus affecting their achievement levels.

Since middle class children are more likely to have been socialised in a home environment that creates an elaborated language code, middle class children and their teachers "speak the same language" within the school. As such working class children have to learn this "new" language code, which puts them at an immediate disadvantage to their middle class peers. Their thought was limited by lack of linguistic skills. In some cases, children from working class may even feel alienated from the class.

Financial capital refers to the financial resources that can be put at the disposal of a child to facilitate his transition in the school system. Financial capital gives access to more private tuition, computers, a wide variety of books and other learning materials, a better diet – sometimes with vitamin supplement to boost up memorising capacity – and more trendy and sophisticated materials that put the child in a dominant position among his peers as compared to his classmate from the working class.

On the other hand, the lower social classes may lack the money to provide their children with the same educational opportunities as middle and upper class parents. As such the working class children lack parental support and motivation (poor diet, lack of privacy, lack of school resources, the stigma of poverty and the need to bring money into home) – and family pressures tend to push them into choosing the option of work – rather than education. These children are encouraged by their parents to “take what they can get, when they can get it”. That is they can start to earn money at an earlier age than their middle-class peers.

In addition, when there is malfunction in the family unit, such as family disrupted by spousal conflict, break up, broken homes, negligent and deviant parents, interpersonal conflict, lack of communication between members of the family, lack of supervision, weakened attachment (no attachment to the house), delinquency seems inevitable as children feel a sort of rejection and thus display a high level of hostile detachment thereby affecting both their behaviours and results in a negative way at school.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Implementing Thinking Skills

Thinking skill may be explained as the mental capacity to analyse, synthesise and evaluate a situation and ultimately draw a conclusion or make a decision. Thinking skill is therefore important for each individual in his daily life. On top of that, thinking skill is also a prerequisite of the labour market. Employees across different hierarchies are called upon to make decisions.
However, as McGuiness, C. and Sheehy, N. (2006) mentioned, children cannot become better thinkers – able to give reasons for their conclusions, to think flexibly and creatively, to solve problems and make good decisions – solely by learning a content-based curriculum. We must make clear what we mean by these different forms of thinking and set out to teach them more explicitly than we normally do in classrooms.
 How far the implementation of thinking skills leads to the development of a thinking classroom depends on several conditions. Some conditions do favour in successful outcome but others may not. For instance, to develop a thinking classroom, pupils need to be made to participate in the learning exercise. We need to change their role from passive to active. For that it is important that the learning environment be made conducive to pupils’ participation in creative and critical thinking – a place where no questions or answers are considered as stupid or wrong ones but rather opportunities for the teacher to coach the pupils to think in the right direction. A place where they:
...need to feel free to explore and express opinions, to examine alternative positions on controversial topics, and to justify beliefs about what is true and good, while participating in an orderly classroom discourse (Jerry Thacker, as quoted in Gough 1991, p. 5 as quoted in Cotton, K. 1991).
Precisely, the role of the teacher is very important. The latter should be an effective discussion leader. Therefore, as educators of business subjects, we need to examine our subject of discussion in advance, prepare a set of questions of different order levels to be addressed to our pupils and be attentive to responses. Besides, we need to give enough time to our pupils to think. According to Burden, R. and Williams, M. (1998), students whose teachers extend waiting time in their questioning sessions master inquiry skills more effectively. It also increases the length of student responses and the number of questions students ask, the number of times students make inferences and support them with evidence and the number of contributions from slow learners.
Some of the above characteristics of teacher behaviours that help to foster the development of thinking skills can be found in the following list suggested by Thacker as mentioned in Cotton, K. 1991:
·         Setting ground rules well in advance
·         Providing well-planned activities
·         Showing respect for each student
·         Providing nonthreatening activities
·         Being flexible
·         Accepting individual differences
·         Exhibiting a positive attitude
·         Modeling thinking skills
·         Acknowledging every response
·         Allowing students to be active participants
·         Creating experiences that will ensure success at least part of the time for each student
·         Using a wide variety of teaching modalities.

To develop thinking skills, it is also important to use metacognitively-rich pedagogy. According to McGuiness, C. and Sheehy, N. (2006), metacognition has potential to facilitate the transfer of learning. Metacognitively-rich pedagogy supports children’s learning and thinking so that they would be better placed to plan, monitor and appraise their own thinking which will enhance their future learning and thinking. For instance, as educators, we may coach our pupils to do the following:

  • Planning how and when to work
  • Self-monitoring – that make sure they understand what they do
  • Evaluating why they do mistakes
  • Working hard parts on their own
  • Not doing their work as quickly as possible but diligently
Thinking skills can also be developed by using learner centred teaching strategies – whereby teaching and learning engages both the cognitive as well as the social resources of the classroom. For instance, we can take real life examples and make our pupils to recognise their own role in society in such examples. For example, while teaching “The Law of Demand” in economics, we can use role play to explain our pupils their own behaviours as consumers in real life with respect to increase in prices of commodities while they have the same limited means. Indeed, Robert Fisher quotes the following in his book Teaching Children to think:
A stimulus, to be learning experience, should carry significance and meaning that relates to the wider context of the child’s culture. A given culture can be challenged or rejected at a later stage. What a child needs is a starting point of offered meanings to give him his first bearings in an unfamiliar world (Fisher, R. 1995, p.111)
Another way of enhancing the development of a thinking classroom could be by using guided discovery method as well as case study whereby the pupils are presented with a few situations and allow them to draw conclusions and provide solution.
 Cooperative learning can also help in developing a thinking classroom as mentioned by Jacobs, G. M., Lee, C, & Ng, M. (1997).

… cooperative learning can support an environment in which students feel encouraged to take part in higher order thinking (p.16).
Jacobs, G. M., Lee, C, & Ng, M. (1997) also explain how cooperative learning can help development of thinking skills:
Teachers who use cooperative learning have learning objectives that are academic, affective, and social. Students are encouraged not to think only of their own learning but of their group members as well. Cooperation becomes “a theme”, not just a teaching technique (Jacobs, 1997). Further, cooperation features throughout the school, e.g., teachers cooperate with one another and let their students know about this collaboration (p.2).
Also, given through cooperative learning pupils think about the learning of their peers, they may, therefore, be asked to evaluate and analyse problems of other members of their group.
The quality of teaching aids we use in class may also influence the degree to which the classroom becomes a thinking classroom. For instance, the use of visual aids like charts, graphs, pictures or even videos may help pupils have reflection and thinking on the topics being taught.
However, there are also some conditions that may hinder the development of a teaching classroom.
As educators we are bound by a syllabus. We have to cover all the contents of the syllabus within a specific time frame. Therefore, we may not take all our time letting pupils to think, waiting for slow learners to participate or attending to all responses and questions from pupils; else we run the risk of not completing the syllabus. In addition, lessons plans that are based largely on thinking skills take long time to be prepared while we also have to provide adequate time to the preparation of tasks, assessments, corrections of exercises so as to prepare our pupils for the exams.
Another obstacle about implementing thinking skills could be language problem, especially when the school program is taught in a foreign language. Pupils having difficulties with languages may find it difficult to participate and therefore may not take the pain to think over the question asked.
Moreover, facilities for the use of visual aids like projector and videos may be available in all schools. Even where they are available, they are in limited quantities and prior arrangements need to be made as they may be used by other educators also.
In conclusion, it should be acknowledged that it is important for us educators to strike a fair balance between covering the syllabus content and developing thinking skills in our pupils so that they learn and live more intelligently; though our means are restricted.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Teaching Philosophy

My philosophy is based on the belief that all children have equal rights in society: equal rights to education and therefore need to be given equal opportunities to learn. Though children are of different ability and styles, they should be treated with all fairness and given equal chance to succeed in the education system.

I believe that knowledge is built up upon prior knowledge. As educators, it is our role to support the learners’ development for them to move to the next step. This method of learning is called scaffolding and was advocated by Vygotsky.  Scaffolds are temporary and are removed when the learners abilities increase to more knowledgeable (Van Der Stuyf , R., 2002).

I also believe that learners are products of their social environment. Therefore, their behaviours and development can be influenced by setting their classroom environment, a place where they spend most of their day. Following Vygotskian theories, dynamic support and considerate guidance are provided based on the learner’s abillity. Students are exposed to discussions, research collaborations and project groups that work on problem analysis. (Ozer, O., 2004). Therefore, learners are allowed to interact with each other.

“The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student superior.” Marva Collins

Passionate Blogger