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By Dr Mark Devonish
My years in medical school will forever live in my memory. For I must confess, this period would have been forgettable if it were not for variances with my lecturers; for excruciatingly their classrooms weren’t conducive to learning, rather they bore the hallmark of restrictive correctional facilities. Surely the genesis of these poor teaching environs must have been down to the non-existence of education qualifications which for an eternity, I’ve advocated to be requisite for lecturers. And this begs the question, how can they educate when basic educational principles were denied them? For it is without doubt that every classroom depicts a kaleidoscope of learning styles with constructivism my leaning. And my constructivist schema is one of knowledge assimilation and accommodation through interrogating concepts. Admittedly, in my world of curious inquisition, I care less about factual knowledge rather my intellectual curiosity is conceptual; seeking the why, how and what. And once intellectually accoutred, I amalgamate the prior with present knowledge creating a new framework. It is for these reasons I postulated that lecturers must be equipped with education qualification to navigate the turbulent seas of facilitative learning.
And teaching is about mannerism. It’s about body language. It’s about establishing that first level Marlow’s hierarchy of needs. For reluctantly, I must intimate that the condescending mannerisms of some lecturers did sully our learning environ. For how can a student grasp concepts when the teaching is regimented; where the lectures are delivered by directly reading from the textbooks with no pretence at explicating? But more excruciatingly, I struggled to decipher the codified methodology of one of my pre-clinical lecturers. Her archaic pedagogy was one of information force feeding with anticipatory regurgitation when beckoned. And one of those regimental practices was the agonisingly cyclical Monday ruminating quiz. For not dissimilar to condemned prisoners, we sat with nervous anticipation, heavy eyed awaiting the inevitable.Then unexpectedly, at one such academic tortures, we were rendered speechless with the question content; for none of us in our sleepless imaginations would have anticipated interrogation on ligamentum flavum. And perplexed, I queried of the locus of the ligament, for which the response was spinal but of no clinical significance. For our Anatomist was clearly enthralled with the ligament which is of no consequence to future medical doctors.
As a result I queried of myself, why are so many lecturers, pregnant with knowledge but struggle to impart to enthusiastic students? Then after much deliberation, eureka did unlatch my eyes to the reality that they perceive pedagogic matters as an excercise from bed to lectern. And this I emphasise, effective teaching shouldn’t be haphazard. Planning is mandatory. Aim the lessons’ GPS. Learning objectives obligatory. Lesson feedback inescapable. Then in contrast, there are those with lesson plans but unfortunately those plans that undergo annual emesis, are as old as some students. For without doubt, an emphatic epitome of such a languorous lecturer, now former, must be Freddie Kissoon. For every year he stood at the lectern to unashamedly regurgitate the very subject matter, so much so that they have become permanently ingrained on the walls of the GWLT. And burdened by his practise, introspection caused me to painfully ponder if Mr. Kissoon was devoid of professional pride? For professional pride speaks to one’s academic legacy with the gold standard cementitious route being research. For research is that substratum that underpins new knowledge. Without new knowledge our field becomes malodorously stagnated. But most importantly, research serves as that intellectual ferromagnet that attracts quality students and world-class academics. Freddie Kissoon’s inaction deprived his students by consistently feeding them expired knowledge as he fettered UG, for 26yrs hindering potential quality lecturers. For his record of no research in 26 years, Freddie Kissoon is not worthy of the self acclaimed academic title he boast of.
Quality lecturers produce quality graduates
Then inescapable are lecturers who perennially regurgitate theories without an appreciation of their limitations. For I would proffer, that it is inconsequential imparting theories to students of Philosopher X while disregarding the culture and social issues of that time which informed those theories. Thus, it is beyond fundamental that lecturers have an immeasurable postgraduate understanding of their subject matter for this will secure their position on academic Mount Everest, rendering visualisation of such limitations feasible. For such visual clarity will be that laissez-passer, facilitating holistic dissection of concepts to a granular level which ultimately serves as that intellectual conduit for critical thinking. Undoubtedly, a lecturer with an extensive research portfolio will appreciate critical appraisal and evidence hierarchy and utilising such tools as intellectual filters to guide the critical eyes of students, precluding examination of abstractions only superficially. For unrepentantly confident I am that world class lecturers can take their students through that academic journey where at its conclusion will produce graduates that are head and shoulders above university regurgitrant. Surely, universities must be those institutions that foster critical thinking. Analytical thinking. Accommodating and promoting intellectual curiosity. For any lecturer devoid of such critical qualities will produce students who are academically malnourished. And painfully, Freddie Kissoon comes to mind.
Then there are the contextualisation struggles of many lecturers. For it is without doubt that knowledge is a living breathing abstract, nurtured by research, facilitating evolutionary thinking. For any educationalist will struggle to deny Maslow, Skinner and Dewey their rightful places in education. Future educationalist must be edified of their academic contributions but it is imperative that this is done through critical lenses. For it is inescapable that the culture, social issues, and race that informed and underpinned those theories may not hold true for our society. But the reality, which unfortunately eludes many educationalists, is the unyielding fact that our teachers are being equipped for 2020 and beyond. Undeniably Maslow Hierarchy is critical but much more critical is the recognition that since Marlow, education has evolved. So how about exploring the impact of social media on learning? Explore social media as a tool for facilitative learning. Technology role in teaching. Examine the limitations of our education system that were woefully exposed by Covid. Therefore, from my unbiased eyes, I assert that adapting our curriculum is the least we can do to address those Covid inadequacies. Indeed this argumentation, albeit delivered clumsily, is that premier universities aren’t judged on aesthetics. They are judged based on the technology within their walls. Judge by students’ quality and their professional progression thereafter. The best universities have world class academics who embrace research as a medium to develop their field and university.
Undoubtedly, we need politicians with a vision. A vision to universally advance learning institutions. A vision to attract quality international students. A vision to create uniformity in school performances. A vision to foster research and quality academics at our tertiary institution. Unfortunately, the current Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand is visionless, so much so that the entire academic year she is hidden under the school desk but resurfaces to demand personal accolades for the 2% exceptional performances at CXC, CAPE or Grade 6 examinations while disregarding the 98%. We need politicians who transcend this simplistic self appraisal. For our children deserve fundamental changes in their education system and not these yearly opportunistic political celebratory charade.