I have a six-year old friend who entered grade one last September. This was the beginning of his second year in primary school. I was going through my friend’s book bag (which I thought was quite big and heavy for a six-year old) when I came across a 100 page hard cover note book. I asked my friend what was he doing with this big “note book” in his bag. He responded, “Miss say we have to bring it to write notes”. Write notes? At six?
Here is another situation that plays itself out over and over on a daily basis. Almost every time I enter a classroom, I meet the black board filled with “notes”. Invariably, I have to give the students a few minutes of my period to “write down” the notes that Miss or Sir left for them. And, as you may well appreciate, all 80 square feet of the black board is emblazoned with “notes” from left to right and top to bottom.
It is therefore no wonder that the typical teen-ager finds school to be excruciatingly boring. After all, they are made to sit for hours and copy badly written “notes” from a black board. Alternatively, they must listen and write as Miss or Sir “call notes”. Unfortunately for the children of the 21st century; the children of the education revolution; “notes calling” and “notes writing” still remain as significant instructional strategies for too many teachers.
As a student, I found “notes calling” and “notes writing” to be painfully monotonous. I simply could not keep up. I often waited eagerly for my teacher to pause and offer some “explanation” of his or her “notes”. In fact, I even developed the technique of deliberately asking a slew of questions to delay the resumption of “notes calling” or “notes writing”. It did not always work though! With the urgency of covering the material foremost in their minds, my teachers would stop the questioning and stick to their notes!
As a teacher of history and social studies, two subjects notorious for “notes”, I choose not to “dictate notes”. I never did and I never will. Furthermore, I use the black board sparingly. In fact despite Charles Best’s excellent tutoring at the SVG Teachers College, I never learnt to apply the effective uses of the black board in my classroom!
We are now in the digital age and all that it implies. I prefer to refer to these times as the post black board era. Today, there are countless effective alternatives to “calling” and “copying” notes. Yet, the practice is still so ubiquitous in our school system. That is why I am calling on the SVG Teachers Union to conduct a series PD workshops on the theme: Making the Black Board Obsolete- Interesting Alternatives for Engaging Students with Educational Material.
In the meantime, I feel it for those six-year olds like my young friend who have to lug a bag of hard cover note books to and from school and who must sit and copy copious notes from the black board or as Miss dictates. Perhaps, all of this would be eliminated when every child and every teacher are in posession of the digital tools to make teaching and learning engaging, exciting and enlightening in this the digital age.
This piece is not about the digitalization of school processes and the consequent reduction in the use of paper; it is not about the integration of ICT into the curriculum with the use of digital media; it is not even about the widespread use of laptops, net-books or i-pads that threatens to make obsolete the paper bound text; it is not even about the scarcity of copy paper and the continued reliance on the chalkboard for writing up notes, tests, notices etc. No my dear colleagues, my reflections today refer to a matter of much greater import. My article is about the growing absence of toilet paper in schools across St. Vincent and the Grenadines!
This reality hit me in the face the other day when I noticed that an unusually high number of students, particularly females, kept coming to my office in search of “a piece ah toylit papah please sah”. I had no problem. I have been going “paper-less” in that regard for some time now. So, I had no difficulty in liberally sharing my supply with those who sought the item. The last time I checked, I was completely out.
Then, at an emergency staff meeting a few days ago, the scarcity of toilet paper in the school was accorded priority status on the agenda! The principal expressed concerned about the rapidity with which this precious item seemed to be disappearing. Bails of toilet paper are depleted in a matter of days. Information gleaned from colleagues around the country suggests that this may well be a nation wide trend.
As one who has an interest in educational research, I have an impulse to conduct some investigation in to the issue. Why is toilet paper so scarce in our schools? Has the Ministry of Education been cutting back on the supply? Does it have anything to do with the global economic crisis? Are our schools generating so much filth that an inordinate amount of toilet paper is necessary? Or is it that teachers are taking home the school’s supply of toilet paper?
Going paperless is a notion normally associated with the digital age. Naturally, St. Vincent and the Grenadines will not be left behind. Apart from the distribution of net-books to teachers and students, we appear to be cutting back significantly on the use of toilet paper. Perhaps we have found a way to digitize all sanitary activities!
As one writer states: “paperless doesn’t mean no paper. It means simply that technology is giving us new options to reduce or eliminate much of the paper we use today and to enjoy the cost savings that result. Moreover, it gives us the satisfaction of introducing ourselves and our students to the increased portability and accessibility of digitized ideas and to a greener way of doing business”.
Trust the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to embrace the concept of the “paperless school”. But, must we begin with the elimination of toilet paper?
Today is May 13, 2011 and in 69 days EI 6th World Congress will begin. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) will be represented by Ronald Clarke the Union’s first vice-president and acting president. Is SVGTU in a position to represent the teachers of this country at that international forum? Does Clarke have the moral authority to speak on our behalf in such a gathering?
EI –Education International– is the global union federation of organizations that represents over 30 million teachers and other education workers, through 402 member organizations in 173 countries and territories. The World Congress, held every four years, is the supreme governing body of Education International. The next Congress will be held in Cape Town, South Africa, in the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from July 22nd to July 26th, 2011.
The Congress provides an opportunity for representatives of all EI affiliates to meet and strengthen the bonds of solidarity between teachers and education workers throughout the world. Delegates consider the major contemporary issues affecting their organizations, the international teacher trade union movement, and the ongoing struggle to achieve quality public education for all.
At the World Congress, EI members will address “major contemporary issues” affecting teachers across the globe. Among the issues on EI’s agenda are:
- education for all;
- the working and living conditions of teachers;
- school leadership;
- status of teachers;
- trade union education;
- human and trade union rights;
- children rights gender equality;
- sexual diversity;
- health and safety at schools;
- HIV/AIDS prevention;
- the global economic crisis and its impact on teachers
- national violent conflicts and their impact on teachers.
Indeed, EI is on a mission to forge solidarity among the world’s teachers in the quest for quality education.
Where does St. Vincent and the Grenadines stand relative to all these critical issues on EI’s agenda? How has the SVGTU executed its mandate to address these concerns on the national front? Exactly what will Clarke take to the world congress on our behalf? What does he intend to bring back?
There are those who who assert that SVGTU is now a broken union. Since the last biennial convention over a year ago there has not been a single legitimate gathering of the principal organs of the SVGTU, i.e. the General Membership and the General Council. This is a clear violation of the constitution. The National Executive is apparently left to do its own thing. The situation is such that the very legitimacy of the union’s operations may be questioned. What is the acting president going to tell EI in South Africa about this situation?
Given the perception that the leadership of the organization has been unable or refused to stand up and speakout on certain national issues, can we now expect acting president Ronald Clarke to do so in South Africa? What is he going to report on issues such as:
- violation of the collective agreement;
- the status of the reclassification exercise;
- failure to revise the present agreement;
- government’s unilateral “wage freeze”;
- the impact of the twin evils of political tribalism and political victimization on the teaching profession;
- the plummeting morale of teachers across the state;
- the declining membership of the SVGTU?
- the lethargic functioning of the only body that represents the interest of teachers ?
Some members of the union may find it hard to accept the view that the acting president may well be going to South Africa on a joy ride. How can the “leader” of an inactive, silent and broken union purport to speak in an international forum on behalf of a demoralized membership? How can one who appears dumb at home go out on the international stage and “speak” on the critical issues that confront the teachers of this country? Is it too late to stop this outrage?
Teaching for me still remains quite a noble profession. After nearly 30 years in the service of our youth, I still have the drive, the passion, the energy and the motivation to make a positive difference in the lives of my students. But, as the days go by, this is becoming quite a daunting task.
Among the biggest challenges facing me and several young, bright, talented and committed teachers is the despicable decline in discipline and decorum among the student population we pledge to serve. Several youngsters are downwright rude and disrecpectful. They have absolutely no regard for anyone, human or divine.
Just yesterday a young female colleague attempted to admonish an otherwise unruly class. The unfortunate young lady probably made a remark that some elements in the class found to be “offensive”. In response to the pleading of the teacher for some quietude and order, a girl in the class blurted out, “She ah behave like she ha man prablems”.
This was an unapologetic remark directed to my young colleague; delivered without fear or trepidation. Clearly, who the hell is Miss to tell them anything? Why should Miss bring her “man prablems” to the class? What Miss should have done was to mind her own business. Miss’s presence, and her attempt to establish order was clearly an affront to whatever the students had planned for that period! And, that young lady, that first former, that beneficiary of the “education revolution” had to let Miss know it!
I still love teaching. I just have to remember to keep my “man prablems” out of the classroom!