Monday, November 23, 2009

Is there a Balance?

“Yippee!!” Oh yes, Maame Abena couldn’t help but to join in the celebration of the last penalty kick by Agyeman Badu which made the Ghana Black Satellites, champions of the under 21 World Cup competition.Maame Abena is just a little over one year old but always proves to be a quick learner even though she is still learning how to give the right answers to “How old are you?” and “How are you?” Her response has always been “I ya fan,” with a smile, of course. Maybe that’s her easy way out. Interestingly, her big sister who is close to 3 years old takes pride in her ability to keep her eyes closed to recite from memory letters “A” to “Z”. Does this make any difference by keeping her eyes opened? You’d better keep mute and congratulate her on that!

The question I ask myself is “are kids of today better off in their mental development in school than our time?” Hmm, I still remember basic and primary school days when one was forced to keep countries and their capital cities in memory. Wow! those early morning “Mentals” code named “morning tea” in school . Mental was arithmetic drill from student to student by the teacher in the classroom. Failure to provide the right answer within a stipulated time (usually within some few seconds) results in lashes in your palm, buttock or back (not fun!) And then, Spelling Bee code name “dictation” followed in the afternoon with the usual lashes upon those unable to spell some words correctly. We usually got scared when we encountered big words like crocodile, hippopotamus, trypanosomiases etc. Well, no wonder school wasn’t fun for some of us during those days, but I think it also helped us to be able to memorize definitions and formulas in the junior high school.

The senior high school was a lot more fun because we were allowed to use calculators in the classroom and even get access to formula tables during arithmetic, science and economics exams.

Today, some educators still find it hard to embrace technology in the classroom because they complain it’s reducing brain development and encouraging laziness on the part of students due to easy access to information for homework, project work or assignment. “Students of today think they know more than their teachers and parents” is what most tutors say but I don’t think it’s true. 

During the introduction session at “The Breakthrough Learning in a Digital Age” workshop by Sesame Street recently, Dr. Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google) stated that “our challenge today is to narrow the gab between Education, Learning and Internet” which I concur.

The basic tools and context for learning has changed from pens and pencils to mouse and keyboard, papers and books to applications and software, classroom and school community to the internet (global virtual community).

But sadly, some of our local lecturers in some universities still insist on producing the replica content of their handout/lecture notes as answers to exam questions without any additional facts from the internet. Others restrict you to only books from the shelves of the school library but the reality, often times is, these books (if even available) are too old. 

Search engines speed up research with access to diverse related and recent facts. More time is spent on critical-thinking and critical-analysis, summarizing and synthesizing, then designing and problem solving. The days of direct instruction in the classroom for the 1st position student are gone. This age is a collaborative construction classroom. No more teacher-directed classroom, it’s now student-directed classroom. The theory-based lessons should be practically based with more skills as knowledge.

Ultimately, we learn for life and not for school in the 21st Century for a better balance of education.

© Harry Tetteh