Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mid-Term Slump

I have been in a bit of a slump the past several weeks. I think much of this is due to teaching in a secondary school. The entire school system in this country is stressed.

Overall, there are not nearly enough teachers. There are schools full of students that are barely staffed. Even when teachers are present the pervasive poverty affects so much: low salaries, lack of textbooks and supplies, the inability of families to pay tuition.

Students have personal problems that of course affect their ability to study: malaria and other health issues; divorced parents; living far away from home; relatives infected by HIV; and just plain hunger. Even being at a private Catholic school such as ours we are hardly unaffected by these things.

So much is at stake when the national examinations are taken. They determine whether a student can progress to the next step in the system. If you don't at least pass, your job prospects are bleak — and that seems to be so much of the focus of education. There are alternatives to getting a university degree but they seem to be considered second-rate and looked down on. So there is a lot of pressure on the students academically (and indirectly on their teachers).

And, there is dealing with the bureaucracy of a top-down government that is very centralized and whose education departments are highly politicized. Imagine edicts handed down by people who are not educators making decisions which schools have no choice but to follow even if they do not make sense pedagogically.

I must add that comparatively speaking our school is adequately staffed, well managed, and more or less solvent. We strive not only to prepare our students for those all-important exams but also to influence good character and behavior and to educate in the broadest and best sense of the word.

But that's just it — there are so few schools that are able to attain even the modest level that we are running at. Even in the best of conditions I would expect the needs of a secondary school anywhere to be endless; after all you are working with groups of adolescents who are constantly coming and going as they enter and as they graduate. In our circumstances, the needs are so much greater; they can feel overwhelming. - Earl

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