Two education systems but same problems

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 1999, 12:00am

Having read Pauline Bunce's excellent article ('The dreadful depths of dreary teaching', South China Morning Post, October 27) I found myself recognising much of what she had to say in my own experience as a new teacher in Britain.

In particular I was provoked into thinking about how and why two such different systems could suffer such similar problems.

At the core of the problem is an education system that is examination-driven, where good exam results are valued more than the less tangible concept of good education.

If things are going reasonably well in terms of exam results, new teachers are frightened of bringing in new ideas and risking a poor set of results. Further, most of the curricula I have experienced have been extremely narrow and very prescriptive, leaving little time or space for experimentation, and even less to put things right when, as occasionally happens, something goes wrong.

The counter-argument to this is that while curricula tell teachers what they should be teaching, they do not tell them how they should be teaching it. As a result we are said to have the freedoms necessary to be innovative and to make our lessons interesting and challenging. This is to some extent true; however, the argument negates one of the biggest problems facing any innovator: the fear of failure.

If teaching and learning is to be relevant and imaginative it must be carried out in a supportive environment rather than the blame culture which is all too prevalent in many schools and colleges.

Only if we are able to share, and learn from, the full range of our experiences - including our failures as well as successes - will we develop the confidence and the skills necessary to improve our teaching.

The reality is that education is becoming more and more business-orientated. The potential of performance indicators to provide the focus for management strategies that shape teaching and learning should not be underestimated.

In this environment, few, if any, schools are able to provide staff with the luxury of a forum (during the working week) in which teaching and learning can be discussed in any depth.

If they did it would be a brave teacher who stood up and explained to colleagues how something they had tried had gone wrong and then invited them to suggest improvements and solutions. The fear of damaging one's reputation and career prospects is a real one that many teachers feel cannot be ignored.

While there is systematic pressure on teachers to give greater emphasis on preparing their students to pass exams (a worthy aim I agree), there is not enough encouragement for those who want to provide them (and many do) with the experiences necessary to develop into the independent, critical and active learners that our society and its employers claim to value so much.

However, to get this encouragement, teachers must demonstrate as a profession that they value and support innovation and that they are prepared to embrace it as the tool for personal and professional development and re-enfranchisement that it most surely is.