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The basic function of education

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Editor: Within the context of the discussion and debate surrounding the “Education Revolution”and the proposed Education Bill, coupled with much talk about “Caribbean Civilization” and integration, it seems appropriate to step back and examine the basic function of education.

What percent of our population has made or can make a positive, informed contribution to the ongoing discussion on Constitutional Reform and what would be the percentage ten years from now? The decisions being made today will decide the answer to that question.{{more}}

No one questions the premise that all citizens need to master numeracy and literacy. No one questions that, among the desired outcomes of an adequate education is the preparation of the individual for gainful employment in one of the sectors of the economy, be it professional, technical or scientific, agricultural, commercial, or academic.

What seems to be lost sight of is the most basic requirement of any public education system: the production of a well rounded citizen capable of making intelligent and informed decisions concerning the shape and regulation of the society in which he resides. An educational system that fails to produce individuals capable of independent thought and critical analysis is only creating robots and automatons that will be channeled into whatever services the existing economic structure dictates.

People can and will vote for whatever candidate can most effectively manipulate the opinions of the unreflective, generally based on emotional appeals. Citizenship should entail the willingness and desire (as well as the ability), to participate in, and if necessary lead, progressive developmental programmes and projects at a neighbourhood and community level. Critical thought and an appreciation for, if not active participation in, the fine arts and local cultural institutions are fundamental aspects of a worthy citizen.

An educational system whose primary goals are simply to teach the answers to test questions and produce students who can mimic back prescribed answers to prescribed questions, is by its very nature a failed and doomed system.

Is the current Government or the Opposition attempting to foster or promote the teaching of independent critical thinking and an appreciation for aesthetics and culture, in their broadest defined sense? Handicraft and calypso are all well and good but hardly sufficient. The development of an individual’s ability to apply informed, independent critical analysis, to think for themselves, should begin in primary school and then gain further support in secondary school.

We don’t wait for secondary or tertiary school age to teach a child about what is right and wrong behavior, what is good and what is evil. Why wait until then to offer instruction in the distinctions between good government and bad government, beneficial social and political principles and malignant social and political principles.

All aspects of music and art and dance can be exposed to students at an early age along with standards of discrimination and critical evaluation. Art and politics and moral and philosophic propositions can be discussed, weighed, evaluated and debated at practically every level of the educational system.

Students drop out at nearly every stage of our current educational system. Their formal, structured education ends, for most, at that point. Whatever decision-making skills and disciplines they possess then are what will carry them on throughout the rest their lives.

Are we satisfied that the representatives they elect and the governmental policies they support – and which we all must live with – are the result of thoughtful reflection, or, more likely, of emotional irrationality?

Today’s educational decisions decide the economic and social fate of our country tomorrow.