By Oliver Mills
In the Caribbean, we have always valued education, and although we are not always sure what it means, we feel it is something beneficial to have. The argument is that education is a contested concept. It means different things to different people at different times. But whatever it is, it is seen as rewarding by providing qualifications for jobs, and is a basis for promotion. Also, education helps to make us better human beings through the values and culture it represents. No mishap here.
Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
Some time ago, a prominent educator said of another that he was responsible for most of the damage done to education in their country. Is it then possible for education to be a mishap, causing calamity and disorder, according to the meaning of the term given in a particular dictionary? But based on the paragraph above, it is something desirable to have and doing what is good its very essence. So what is the real position? The educator who blamed the other for the state of education in their country meant that the advice given did not improve the system, although it was supposed to. Instead, it ended up in a less desirable position than it previously was.
How is it possible, for education, a tool of transformation and development to cause havoc and near underdevelopment? Is something wrong with education itself? More bluntly, is education itself a mishap? I am assuming that this particular educator conducted research on the system, interviewed other professionals, and analyzed the system, yet it ended up being damaged, instead of changing for the better? The point is, although the educator who damaged the system was highly qualified, it did not move to a higher level. So what happened?
Does education as a professional enterprise have within it ingredients that cause mishaps? My view is that advice on education can damage the system if the educator is not specifically qualified in the area of development education, but yet seeks to change it. The methodology, interpretation, and the conclusions drawn, could be different from what really is happening. In this sense, education itself is not the mishap; it is the user of education who mischaracterizes what it is about and misperceives its function that caused it. The issue then is how can we really know what education is all about, and so avoid future mishaps?
I know of a student who was graduating with a mathematics degree who said it was not relevant to the programme he would teach. He said the syllabus was different, and the subject was too theoretical. Does this mean his education could cause mishaps or accidents in the system? The question is did he understand his course of studies? Did he have the skills to transfer what was learnt to the school system?
Some students merely go through the formalities of obtaining a credential without making the knowledge a part of who they are, or using it to explore new dimensions within their area. Are these students the future mishaps, and not the education they acquired? Or, is it that, irrespective of the case, knowledge of whatever kind is a mishap, and causes mishaps because it is imperfect and constantly changing?
Mishaps in the sense of causing unlucky accidents, a misfortune, a mischance, or even disorder to the process it is applied to? Would the concern of the student referred to above when he returns to the classroom, manifest into mishaps, affecting his clients in a way not intended?
Educators and school leaders need to take education more seriously to reduce possible mishaps by it, or to those it impacts. Take the recruitment of teachers. How many are really qualified in the areas they are teaching, in the sense of having acquired a substantial subject base? Are they professionally trained to impart knowledge to the particular level of student, or to teach at the institutional level they operate at? If not, does it mean the ground is being prepared for mishaps in education?
Or, is it that whatever the case, education itself is the mishap because it is a mere concept, and so is a contested area? And is it the case that whatever substance we attribute to it, is imported, so that it consists of fragments of other areas, including their short-comings, with no ‘personality’ of its own? Does this form the basis of a major mishap?
And is education itself not a major mishap when we string together a structure of primary, secondary/high schools, colleges and universities into a questionable system, with no clearly identifiable linkages, offering a product with purposes not clearly articulated, and whose outcomes are in instances rather doubtful, and usefulness unclear?
Is education as we conceive it an accident that has waited to happen, unless we can wrap our arms around it, and re-conceptualize and determine how we can shape it to fit our real needs, and so avoid it perpetually being a mishap?