22 Jan The dilemma of quality education

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Dialogue with young people is the sure way for effective correc­tion and career success. Below is a reflection of a lived experience of a teacher, social worker and school board member. What makes a good teacher? Is quality education an oxymoron? Is there relationship between education and discipline? We explore these and more factors affecting quality education in Uganda.

If you can read this, you have gone through the education system. You are an educated person. There is high correction between discipline and academic excellence. By far, many folks that have excelled academically are well behaved as well. And schools with a good disciplinary regime tend to perform better.

The school is one of the most signifi­cant social and learning environments in the lives of its students. Teachers and parents want students to be fulfilled, happy and to become men and women capable of facing the challenges of life in a meaningful and responsible way.

While sending the children to school, parents desire that they may be better introduced to the reality that surrounds them. This is what authentic education is all about. The school must ensure that every student gets the opportu­nity to study in an environment that is physically safe, emotionally secure and psychologically enabling.

Teachers are the single most important factor in creating this environment. All staff members need to be engaged in this process while paying attention to the students and their needs. This suggests some exceptional form of education and prompts one to make an attempt to define it – think about your experience of education whether at home or in school and quickly internal­ly describe your journey of education. If you truly appreciate that path, then you too should be a convert towards this definition. Let’s start with the term from which education is derived; the term ‘to educate’ originates from the Latin word e-ducere, which means “to bring out”, or to lead out of the child (the poten­tials, beauty… inherent in him/her). By definition, according to an Austrian theologian Joseph A. Jungmann, Educa­tion is an introduction to total reality (Luigi Giussani, (1995); The Risk of Education). We (the teacher, the parent and any other adult in the life of the child) need to help the child to discover the meaning of reality.

But there is no true education if it doesn’t reach the heart of the child.

Therefore, every stakeholder in the school has an educative role while per­forming his/her job. This again suggests a teacher/adult with unique charac­teristics. These characteristics will be detailed in subsequent editions.

Teacher authority

It is neither simple nor automatic for anyone to learn and grow in the way towards reality and towards ourselves. There is need for an education, conse­quent upon good teachers. You need to revisit the characteristics of your best teacher during your school days to put this into context. Given the chance to define that teacher you will find the best of attributes you recall. Such descrip­tions will come close to a teacher that was aware and appreciated you with dignity, understood and respected you, made an attempt to understand your social cultural and family background, made an attempt to understand your best interests consequently helping you to develop them. That teacher was your reference point for your growth and maturity. The teacher educated children by way of example and correction.

Such reminiscence naturally coincides well with what teachers of all times ought to be.

If education is an introduction to total reality within which experience the stu­dent’s full potential can be tapped, then this has a great implication to the tasks of the teacher.

This means that the teacher is the one “who causes growth” in the student; the authority. This suggests the unique qualities of the authentic teacher every person working in a school ought to have. The student needs somebody to look at; the source of one’s growth. This is the authentic authority. The teacher’s way of leaving life or presenting a sub­ject reveals their commitment towards own life. The educator attracts the student’s attention only if the way they engage with the reality is fascinating and true, compared to the heart’s desire. A renowned educationist; St. Ignatius of Antioch once concluded that; “We educate by what we say, educate more by what we do, educate much more by who we are” and this opens up to the dilemma of school discipline as under­stood by many teachers and parents today.

What educators are truly certain of is the fact that discipline greatly contrib­utes to learning outcomes and conse­quently contributes to what is known as good or model school. The challenge most educators in Uganda have is how to secure this precious outcome without causing harm or abuse to the student, or literally losing them.

Does discipline matter?

From experience as teacher, interac­tion with teachers and students as well as reading a number of guidelines on school discipline as published by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Information Technology of Uganda, discipline is the practice of helping students understand their own behav­iour, take initiatives, be responsible for their choices, and respect themselves and others.

Students need to internalize a positive process of thinking and behaving that can last a lifetime. School students in school will always make mistakes and require correction at all times. Whether grave offences or light mistakes, they need guidance. As teacher, what is the quality of intermediations do you offer when encountering students in mis­takes?

The key question is whether punish­ment yields educative results or not. From experience, all forms of punish­ment are humiliating and focus anger and hate towards you or they make the student hate themselves. Teachers, who use physical punishment, set an example for the use of violence to settle problems or solve conflicts (children imitate the behaviour of adults).

The consequences of punishment include sadness, nightmares and bed-wetting, low self-esteem, disrespect for authority, anger, rage, higher state of de­pression, anxiety, aggressive behaviour, drug use, desire for revenge, child and/ or sexual abuse among others. Hence, there is urgent need for all teachers to understand the distinction between discipline and punishment.

Discipline is different from punish­ment, because it teaches children to learn from their mistakes rather than making them suffer from them. Punishment means to inflict pain on someone; imposing suffering, shifts the focus from the lesson that needs to be learned to who is in control. As a result punishment focuses on the teacher be­ing responsible for the child’s behavior, rather than the child controlling his own behaviour. The purpose of discipline is to raise responsible, confident and care­ful children.

Effective discipline, therefore, is posi­tive and it helps to look at the individual child and encourages him to find his own way and not the way the teachers or parents find for him. Discipline is a matter of relation, because if a child sees that you are somebody he or she can trust, he will take the advice.

There are no specific rules which speci­fy the path to securing the discipline of the students in school. However, experi­ences of successful attempts exist.

Open dialogue

Interactive and inspiring dialogue with clear rules is the basis of school discipline. Open dialogue with victims of misconduct is urgently required in all schools today.

If a student demonstrates misconduct, the most viable means of correction require the teacher to talk to the student and commit to follow up such a student, tirelessly.

In most cases, there is a problem at home, something inside the student, in this case, he/she needs nothing more than a teacher, who is interested in him and helps him to face problems in a dif­ferent way. Some students just need to be loved or trusted, for they have never met such experience in life!

As a starting point, schools should try the following:

Ensure that violence is not part of education (e.g., corporal punishment, sexual coercion).

Improve the quality of interaction and relationships between the teacher and the student, as well as student and student, irrespective of gender.

Help strengthen and develop the stu­dent’s sense of belonging with his or her peers and community.

Work with parents, other family mem­bers and the community to help reduce vulnerabilities.

Be aware of unaccompanied/separated students and alert appropriate sectors.

Be gender sensitive in all school mat­ters.

Be aware of students with special needs, and pay appropriate attention to them

Be aware of learners who are behaving violently or aggressively, abusing alcohol or using drugs, and provide additional support and care.

It is possible for the adolescents in school to find answers to their challeng­es first by how attractive the teachers live their lives, even in moments of mis­takes. This is the taste of their loyalty to the ideals of life. It is this loyalty which will solicit for their maturity.

The major guidelines for a true method to discipline in schools today must start with the understanding of the concept of authentic education, followed by the struggle to become authentic teachers in the face of the student.

Our greatest task as teachers is to create a method of making the student a protagonist of his own life. This is the most satisfying result of your relationship with your students. Again, this can’t be achieved through punishment but rather educative and corrective companionship.