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The Teacher: The Central Force in the Education System

Education 17 Jun, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

‘Just as a well-trained mind is a country’s most important resource, a competent teacher, motivated and empowered, is invaluable for national progress.’ Livingston Smith

It is now well-established that the shift to a knowledge economy that is being experienced in the most progressive centres of the world, has brought unparalleled attention to the quality of education systems. As James Stronge in his book Quality of Effective Teachers (2018) points out, ‘Within this continuing shift to a 21st century knowledge economy, a primary factor shaping the workers of the new economy is education quality. Indeed, we must understand that the nations with the best schools, and the schools with the best teachers and leaders, will own the future.’

Many factors make for student success in our schools. These include such critical ones as teacher and parent relationship, the extent of parental involvement and interest in the education of their children and the extent to which discipline, persistence and fortitude are nurtured and encouraged at both the home and the school, both reinforcing each other. Also important are the availability of critical resources, the quality of leadership in the school as well as its physical environment.

However, the body of research in the area is emphatic in identifying the teacher as the most important in-school factor impacting student success. A motivated and competent educator, with the appropriate autonomy and accountability, is the central force deciding the quality of education that is delivered. Just as a well-trained mind is a country’s most important resource, a competent teacher, motivated and empowered, is invaluable for national progress. Not only must the teaching profession be valued, but continuous investment in the teacher and teacher quality, is a pre-requisite for a society to experience and benefit from the transformative power of education.

This is especially so in the Covid-19 crisis and the reliance on the online format in the delivery of education. Those who teach must be constantly reminded that what they do is priceless and the better they do it, even more so.

To quote further from Stronge’s book, ‘Teachers have a powerful, long-lasting influence on their students. They directly affect how students learn, what they learn, how much they learn, and the ways in which they interact with one another and the world around them.’

‘Teachers must prepare all students to meet world-class standards, diminish achievement gaps and social inequality, and serve as the linchpin for educational reforms (Cochran-Smith & Villegas, 2015). All of these factors, along with many others, place a renewed premium on our populating every classroom with the best teachers possible.’

A speech given recently by Mrs. Felicicia Robinson, Director of the University College’s Social Work Programmes, to the volunteer teachers of the CXC Education Volunteer Programme, places in sharp focus the importance of teachers, at whatever level, and the crucial nature of the educational enterprise.

What follows is taken verbatim from this excellent speech.

‘In the capacity as educators you are enriching not just the individual but also indirectly touching and reshaping your community. Through education, you are empowering and propelling students into new heights. Your work with the students enables them to create a new narrative; to vision and reach forward into new possibilities. It creates room for them to sit at tables where a seat is guaranteed based on academic or professional achievement only. Education opens doors for them to imagine, to tell and rewrite their story, to set goals for new successes, to meet social expectations, to practice reasoning skills, to think logically, listen carefully and expand their participation in society. All of this is what your giving facilitates. It helps the student to step into pathways that will lead towards improved social status and life circumstances.

‘The aim of an educator is not to clone or reproduce him or herself. Rather, it is to challenge and inspire the student to become their best. The mentoring and teaching of students is intended to support their individual and collective successes. This is the responsibility that you undertake when you sign on to give and invest in the education of others.

‘I see education is an extraordinary gift that brings limitless possibilities for personal and professional success. As a three-times graduate of the University of the West Indies and graduate from two other Universities in the United Kingdom, I am very much aware of the power and value of an education. Education helps us to advance but education also humbles us. It is true that the more we learn, the more we recognize that there is so much more that we do not know.

‘Let us be grateful for the privilege of access to a quality education. When I pause and reflect upon the breadth of opportunities that are available to educated individuals, I conclude gracefully that we all have a moral imperative to teach and bring others along with us into the knowledge world. The truth is the exact outcomes of what our students will become are often unknown to us at the beginning of their education journey. This uncertainty of outcome should never be a discouraging factor. It is because of our education that we can believe and hope that many others will be socially transformed.

‘Today, education is still counted as a powerful vehicle for social justice. However, I caution that education alone will not put all wrongs right. While it will not substitute for integrity or character, education can position the individual into the space where he or she can contribute to the process of redress, redirect trajectories and make changes. Someone has aptly described education as the great leveler of social class and inequalities. This truth is very evident throughout our Caribbean societies. It is because of educational achievements that many of us here have experienced improvements in our family and personal economic circumstances. Without any doubt, our education has impacted the quality and definition our social status and our family life.

‘Education also has the potential to bring changes into our employment settings and to engineer the transformation of the moral, socio-cultural, political and economic aspects of our communities. When we participate in the creating of a more highly educated population, we do so with the hope that our investment will contribute to the formation of a community of thinkers, dynamic, knowledgeable, and ethical leaders. As educators is a moral imperative for us to be involved in the teaching and championing of transparency, honesty, and accountability in public life and in influencing the definition and adoption of good governance models in our societies.

‘Education is not a passive engagement. Arguably, education has always had at its core a reforming agenda. As educators we are involved in what could be described as a political process of teaching, influencing, and changing minds. As educators, we facilitate access to knowledge and information. We promote a voice when encourage individuals to speak up (opinion) and to engage in debating matters important to them. As teachers, we can shape the context of the social, political, and economic discourse. We can influence the voice, tone, the volume, and tenacity with which the community speak on issues. By encouraging careful thought, respectful debate, and exchange of ideas we instill in our students an appreciation of not simply rights but also their responsibilities. As educators, we are also involved in developing informed advocates who will challenge and seek to correct social injustice.

‘I would like to suggest these are some of reasons why we choose to engage in the transfer of knowledge and in supporting the education of others. As educators we are simply opening a pathway for persons to enter and experience knowledge, greater freedom, and self-actualization.’

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