Student-centred teaching vital - Dr Jennings Says male under-achievement has to be tackled

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
August 1, 2000

Student-centred teaching and the elucidation of male under-achievement in the classroom have to be addressed according to Jamaican-born education consultant, Dr Zellynne Jennings.

She was delivering the main address at the graduation ceremony of a batch of teachers from the second phase of the Guyana In-service Distance Education (GUIDE) programme at the Ocean View Hotel and Convention Centre last Tuesday.

The development of multi-lingual skills, student-centred teaching, the teaching of low-achievers with special attention to male under-achievement, and the application of technology as an aid to teaching and learning have long been identified as the ideals.

Dr Jennings said these ideals were identified by regional governments as priority areas which needed urgent attention sometime ago, and more than ever now they are required to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The ideals were recognised since 1997 at a special meeting of ministers of education in Barbados and the 18th Heads of Government conference held in Jamaica.

She observed that "so much is put on the shoulders of the teachers who toil hard for little reward (that) many become disenchanted and leave the profession altogether or leave the country to continue the profession where the pastures appear to be greener."

Dr Jennings observed that "...if teaching remains teaching-centred, if our young males continue to under-achieve and if little use is made of technology in the classroom" it is the teachers and the institution that trained them that will be blamed.

In a recent study on teacher education in the Caribbean, Dr Jennings said that foreign language teachers have to cope with a negative attitude towards Spanish at the secondary level; parents who discourage their children from taking Spanish too seriously because they did not see job-related prospects; and school administrators who would assign time allotted for the subject to extra classes for science or mathematics or to slot-in missed time. In the Guyanese situation, however, she said that knowledge of a foreign language "is absolutely critical." There is need for Guyanese to know Spanish and Portuguese because of Guyana's geographic position in relation to Spanish-speaking countries and Brazil and "a case could also be made for Dutch given the direction of our international relations."

The local teachers training programme should include some study of the Amerindian languages, particularly for those who will teach in the hinterland areas, she advocated.

Spanish is now a core subject which every trainee teacher at the primary level has to study at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE). This means that "in another four years or so we should not be suffering from a shortage of teachers to teach Spanish at the primary level" and every primary school graduate should be able to speak and understand Spanish at the very basic level.

However, in terms of Spanish teachers at the secondary level, she could not say that the same will apply as teacher trainees at the secondary level choose the subjects they wish to specialise in.

Teacher-centred teaching, she said, is typified in the banking concept of education in which the teacher gives, the students receive; the teachers tell, the students listen; the teachers give notes, the children copy them."

"Progressivists tell us that something is wrong with this and should be corrected by making teaching student-centred. "Let the students discover knowledge for themselves.... In this way (they) will be more independent to accept more responsibility for their own learning."

While teacher-educators in the Caribbean have been making teaching more student-centred, this may not be what students want as one principal noted that some students have the cultural preference of being talked down to, Dr Jennings said. This problem is exacerbated by the lack of adequate teaching and learning resources such as few and out-of-date books and few up-to-date journals.

Checking the Internet, too, could prove to be frustrating owing to non-functioning computers and delays in getting a link-up.

In relation to male under-achievement, Dr Jennings said, the topic is a cause for concern in the entire Caribbean and in other parts of the world, including North America and Europe.

The general perception that the solution to male under-achievement lies in the school and in the hands of the teachers represents a rather myopic vision of the issue, she said.

The solution, she reiterated, lies in dealing with wider social and economic issues, including that of employment opportunities for school leavers and improvement in work conditions, salaries for teachers and societal value for teaching as a profession if it is to be made attractive enough to entice the male back into the profession.

In the Caribbean context the general absence of male teachers in the classrooms to serve as models for young boys is also taken into account. All of these factors point to the fact that addressing the issue of what is perceived as male under-achievement is not simply a teacher training issue, she said, adding that "the contribution of the teacher to the solution of the problem is but one cog in the wheel, an important one at that, but nevertheless just one."

She noted that a recent study which examines the patterns of performance of Jamaican boys and girls in the 1997 Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams challenges the view that males are under-achieving. The writer argues that the problem would be more accurately described as under-participation and not under-achievement.

To address the issue "we need to find out why they are not participating." Fewer boys are attending school than girls and this is applicable throughout the entire education system, including the teachers training college level where the ratio of females to males is six to one.

In addition, fewer boys enter for CXC subjects than girls but the boys who do participate are generally the better performers overall in the sciences and the technical areas.

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