Making schools count

Granted, our public schools have been experiencing a shortage of critical inputs for years. Yes, provision of adequate teaching and learning materials is a challenge that the ministry must crack sooner rather than later. As Professor Jaap Kuiper timely observed, delivery of resourcing of schools is compounded by “a protracted and long winded process of procurement.” This calls for a revision of the procurement process.

The revised version must necessarily include decentralisation (to cut the red tape) and empowerment of school leaders to give them a leading role in the procurement of teaching and learning needs. After all, school principals are better placed to determine what their schools need and when.

Overturning the trend of slow delivery of school supplies requires the central ministry to take a back seat and scale down its involvement on regional operational matters. The central ministry should focus on matters of policy. However, one must hasten to note that the issue of shortage of resources is overrated. Well managed schools with good instructional practices can do with the bare minimum. In any case, availability of resources cannot guarantee good results. History is littered with examples of schools that developed and sustained a culture of academic excellence despite the challenge of shortage of resources. For instance, our under resourced public primary schools continue to outshine and outperform better resourced secondary schools.

Therefore the issue of underachievement cannot be explained in terms of shortage of resources alone. Yes, funds permitting, all schools must be adequately resourced but much more emphasis should be placed on the activities in the classroom. Besides resources, teaching is mainly a human enterprise, involving an interaction between teachers and students in the presence of content. School principals must exercise vigilance at all times to ensure that this interaction between the three elements yields good learning outcomes. Elizabeth A. City and Rachel E. Curtis say, “many scholars and practitioners describe all activities in the classroom as the instructional core”. Instructional core is a triangular relationship between the teacher (instructional practice), and students in the presence of content (curriculum). Effective teaching can only come about if there is a balance and harmony between the three areas in the triangle. The first component in the triangle is the teacher.

Teacher quality matters. It is the duty of school principals and senior teachers to ensure that all teachers help students to learn. The stark reality is that some teachers help learners to learn while others are not successful in this endeavour. It has been found that students in the same school do not necessarily receive the same standard of teaching. The standard in the same school varies from one classroom to another. City and Curtin have observed that the teacher factor explains partly why “there is much more variation within schools than between schools and it is common to find an effective teacher in a classroom next door to a mediocre teacher”. To overcome this challenge of having ‘two schools in one’ school, principals must foster a culture of collaboration and exchange of notes between teachers. Silos do not work in a learning environment. Then there is the student factor.

Traditionally, lesson observers laid emphasis on the teacher at the expense of students.

The teacher was deemed to be all knowing, the fountain of knowledge deserving all the attention. Lesson observers even today have the propensity to watch closely what the teacher is doing and saying and in the process pay a lip service to what the learners are doing and saying. In the old method of teaching, students were supposed to be free passengers playing little or no role in the learning process.

This is not correct. The students do not come to school empty handed. There is always something students bring to the classroom and efforts should be made to harness their experiences, talents and interests. Classroom activities should not be about the solo efforts of teachers but should also embrace what students are doing and saying. Lastly, interaction with content is equally important. Dealing with an overloaded curriculum puts tremendous pressure on teachers. The desire to complete the curriculum and encourages coverage of breadth at the expense of depth. And school principals should watch classroom proceedings with great care.

Editor's Comment
More resources needed to fight crime

The Fight Crime Gaborone Facebook page is always filled with sad complaints of hard working Batswana who were robbed at knife point at some traffic lights or at their home gates when trying to get inside.These thugs have no mercy; they do not just threaten victims, they are always ready to use knives, and sadly, they damage car windows. While this happens at different traffic lights, there are those where such incidents happen more frequently...

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