Contrary to the impression I’ve given throughout this blog, I actually spent most days working at schools in my ‘Teacher Trainer’ role so I’ll write a few words about the reason I was here.
My assignment was to do a needs-assessment in the local schools and in response to that, design two Professional Development modules that could be implemented by the Teacher Resource Centres in each atoll. I designed, trialled and published those resources (if you’re interested, you can see some of my work here), but spent more of my time observing teachers’ lessons and giving individual feedback.
A major problem in education here and in many other developing countries is that everyone (teachers, admin, parents, tutors, textbook writers) focuses on memorising facts from textbooks. Students aren’t required to use higher-order thinking skills such as applying, analysing, evaluating or creating until they encounter the UK Cambridge syllabus in high school. At that point, students who achieved ‘A’s all through primary school suddenly fail.
The focus on testing memorised facts is pervasive. Students spend much of their time in revision (which involves trying to commit large slabs of text to memory in much the same was as they rote-learn the Q’Uran) and doing mid-term test, past papers, term exams, topic tests, practice tests… but it’s all theoretical and students rarely get a chance to apply their learning.
Exams are a big deal. They close the streets around the school to avoid disturbing students. During the recent political crisis, the dates of the O-Level exams were a major factor in deciding when to re-run a failed election. The cost of printing all those papers and the amount of time taken away from learning is huge. My boss at QSA used to tell the analogy of a farmer who was so concerned about having his pigs ready for market that he spent all his days weighing them and had no time left to feed them. I’ve had cause to tell that story often, but of course had to change the pigs into cows for my Muslim audience.
Early this year, a major research study tested every Grade 4, 7 and 9 student in the country and it showed convincingly that Maldivian students don’t use higher-order thinking skills. Consequently, much of my work has focused on changing teaching and assessment programs to value higher-order thinking. Perhaps the most sustainable outcomes of my work are the changes schools made to assessment policy in this regard – some have replaced their mid-term tests with student projects, and there have been changes in the admin and teaching focus from ‘knowledge’ to ‘skills’ and ‘understanding’.
I’ve written a couple of journal articles in response to my observations. One is about to be published by the local university. Here’s a few paragraphs from the introduction:
“I saw a school that has the motto “Knowledge is Wisdom” on its front gate. I had recently observed lessons in many primary classrooms and the misconception embodied in that motto helped to explain some of the problems I had identified.
The teaching I observed is almost always ‘didactic’ – a one-way transfer of facts from teacher or text book to student. It aligned with the simplistic model of learning that Cohen (1988) described:
“If knowledge is facts, then teaching is telling and learning is remembering.”
However, as Stoll and Schubert (1996) explained:
“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”
The “Knowledge is wisdom” school motto fails to recognise that teaching children to remember facts does not make them educated or wise. Knowledge alone is not wisdom.”
Here’s the whole paper: Knowledge is Wisdom? Observations from Primary classrooms in the Maldives