By Gustavo A. Ramirez, Guidance Counselor / Education Consultant
In my articles I try to point out and describe to readers, both inside and outside of Belize, the many responsibilities as well as the essential needs of educators, students, parents, and the community/country at large. The bottom line and ultimate goal of each article presented in this column and on belizeguidance.blogspot.com is to encourage each individual, not only students but the entire country, to keep improving and growing productively in the new 21st Century. My recent observations and striking descriptions (with apologies to no one) of “learned helplessness” throughout Belize have elicited quite numerous and varied individual responses throughout social media such as Facebook, Blogs, and emails. I respect and will honor each individual’s request for privacy. Nonetheless, it was very encouraging to see that, despite the scant or few comments usually posted under each new article, so many of you readers “do care” about how our Education Systems in Belize work, and whether or not they serve the nation productively. Most encouraging of all was to see how many of you, according to the many emails you sent me, are genuinely interested in improving our Education systems in Belize.
It is always good to be able to identify and understand what strategies are most helpful to teach students, as well as to use our own selves, so they/we can develop productively in this 21st Century. However, before we go delving into the many strategies that can be used to motivate and/or turn around students or ourselves, from unproductive to productive, we should first understand WHY we want or need to put these strategies into practice. To whom are we responsible, and specifically, for what? Why do we constantly need to bring innovative solutions into classrooms to match today’s technologically advanced times vs. keeping old and antiquated teaching systems under which we parents and grandparents studied, and/or that worked for us? Why does it matter whether we do, or not, respect students today or address their emotional, social, in-school and out-of-school needs and problems?
The answer to each of these questions is basic and will never change: young people (students) today are our world tomorrow. Most pertinent is the simple fact that each ‘today’ that we live, really, is our own ‘tomorrow’ that has come to pass! Of course, there are those among us who could care less about ‘tomorrow’ and are merely content to live from day to day on a “take it as it comes” basis. These are the people who, day in and day out, never really care what happens to anyone, student or not. However, despite them, and regardless of whether or not we can attribute our country’s rapidly-increasing criminal and Dickensian population to “learned helplessness”, the fact remains that no one is born a criminal. Numerous studies that have been carried out in Belize, and throughout the world, show conclusively that juvenile delinquency (criminal behavior) is a behavior that is learned through association, imitation, and observation in one’s (home) environment. When we adults (parents, educators, the entire community) ignore young peoples’ needs, wants and desires then these young people often turn to criminal behaviors to satisfy themselves because no one bothers to show them attention or care about them. Sadly, very sadly, juvenile delinquency in Belize will continue to exist and “be on the rise” until adults, especially parents, fully accept that negative patterns of behavior cannot be wished away, nor locked away, but must be addressed early in our children’s lives! “Adults” also includes educators as well as those who run the country, and any other adult who is involved in each of our children’s daily lives.
Being an educator (guidance counselor and teacher) I know fully well, from more than 30 years of experience working in schools, that educators are often misunderstood by students, parents, and by the community. On the other hand, students too are often misunderstood and misused or abused by parents who are blind to the grievous harm they cause their children when they constantly pressure them for high grades. No doubt, it is always a source of pride to parents when their children/students do well in school; however, the main purpose of sending our children to school is NOT for them to get high grades to make us parents proud, so we can then boast to other parents. Students attend school in order to learn as well as to be able to “grow up” and develop their own goals, visions, ambitions, and aspirations in life. Parents should give them the opportunity to do just that, instead of pressuring them, term after term, to bring home grades that are the highest in the class. By all means, we parents and educators should always encourage and help students to “set and achieve (high) goals”; but those goals and achievements should belong to the students, not the parents or educators. If we don’t teach ownership to our children, from an early age onwards, then we have no right whatsoever to scream out in desperation when we see that as adults they refuse to take ownership and responsibility for anything!
The unintended consequences of emphasizing test scores in school as the primary focus of our children’s education are many and detrimental to our entire society. The high-grade stress that an emphasis on grades brings to students may lead them, whether directly or subtly, to try cheating or to disregard the main reason why they need to learn: to develop into productive and happy human beings. So, what is our responsibility to our children, and for what? Of course, we all want our children/students to be winners not losers, and to be high achievers – but for themselves, not for us. So, if and when schools/educators and parents set education policies and goals for students, we need to ensure that their achievement of those goals (through hard work) will benefit them first. After all, who are the biggest winners and losers of education outcomes (testing/grades) that benefit parents and educators, not students? Therefore, I urge all parents and educators to encourage students, from an early age, to learn how to set challenges, face them, and overcome them – with no added stress from us. Let’s allow them to set their challenges and then work to see their own dreams come true in school, in academics as well as in various extra-curricular activities, including sports.
These articles on Education are not intended to be comprehensive or complete. They are written and contributed in an effort to provide a “starting point” for valuable discussion amongst educators, students, and the community. When we discuss and review students’ learning capabilities and the ways in which we currently try to educate them, we learn from our mistakes as well as success. Here’s to finding the best path to follow, fellow educators!