I walked home from work today feeling heavy, disappointed, saddened and frustrated. Teaching students critical thinking skills and helping them to build their reading and writing abilities is of the utmost importance. While the rollout of incorporating this skill into the new educational system is on its way, the current realities is stark.
I learned today-- rather, I experienced a harsh reality of the practice of educating, and the hope but not truly reached impact an educational system can impose on the minds of future educators, workers, parents, and leaders.
Mind you, I do not believe that the standard of education in Maun is ridiculous, "backwards," or any other term that may convey a sense of inferiority.
Every country's educational system, its principles, and the research that informs the application of educational concepts and tools; the policies, resources, cultural sensitivities, funding, missions and visions can always be improved, managed more effectively and efficiently, sustained and/or progressed with the goal of acquiring growth.
The disparities within the educational system in the United States, especially as I have experienced it being someone who has attended public inner-city and suburban schools, private schooling and homeschooling, which are lived experiences within the standards and resource differences between them, is not amiss.
Yet today I felt deeply saddened that there might exist a belief about the students in Botswana and their capabilities, which through very strict intentions, prevent a school's ability to put in place, policies and practices that promote the teaching of higher cognitive thinking skills to students, despite the major push towards an outcome-based learning environment, student-centered, and critical thinking skills education.
The specific skill that brought about my frustration is called: summarizing. A summary is a condensed account of a text's main points and most essential parts. To summarize, according to Bloom's Taxonomy Verb Chart, students will need to remember, understand, apply, analyze and evaluate in order to CREATE a summary.
At the moment, students in Botswana are required to summarize a passage within a very short story. Summarys should be written to convey the meanings within the passage, in the own words of the writer. The reader/writer must construct the main ideas into a meaningful summary, by which, the true meanings of the passage are not lost.
However, because of a probably very real occurence, and the developed culture along with it, most students do not summarize using their own words. Instead, they are given points for simply copying parts of the passage (even when it is literally an entire sentence or paragraph in the passage) and if the students use their own words, they will receive a positive point.
The issue here for me is that, just because students cannot write in their own words a summary, does not mean they cannot learn to. It means to me, that they have not yet been taught and trained to write a summary. Or that, the thinking and technical skills needed to extract main points, synthesize meaning, and formulate that meaning into a summary is somewhat overlooked or, because the kids can't do it, they are then believed to be unable to do it. It might be true that they are unable to, but I think the main reason for that is because learning how to write a summary isn't an automatic skill. Additionally, copying a passage word-by-word is not a summary of that passage, and does not promote critical thinking skills--- the skills the new outcome-based teaching/learning roll out in Botswana is very inclusive to, and promotes.
My first grading of a test according to the educational standards I have been trained and learned about during my undergraduate academic life in Illinois, revealed a collective 93% failure percentage. Yes, the standard I used to grade was based on the standards I am used to. Yet, I was still truly flustered by this. Any students that summarized the passage by simply copying full or partial sentences and paragraphs automatically received no points. I believe copying direct sentences from the passages is nearly a form of plaigarism, and at most, not utilziing the cognitive skills needed to write a summary or at least attempt to.
I decided to speak to a senior teacher in the English department about it. It was explained to me that when their students write summaries and use their own words, the students distort the meaning of the text. I can understand why this is problematic. Students might not have the vocabulary and writing skills to use their own words to summarize. I was also told that there is nothing a teacher can do about changing the rules of what is important for students to learn, because it is based on the powers that be and what they decide is right... even though they are not teachers and haven't studied education.
But still, copying word-for-word is the old way of learning (if even that) .... rote learning. The new way of learning demands students to analyze, evaluate and construct meaning. Critical thinking skills is a must to encourage students to gain if we want them to improve their educational and professional toolbox for their futures.
According to Stobaugh in her book, 50 Strategies to Boost Cognitive Engagement (2019) critical thinking skills ranked number 2 within the top-ten skills needed for employement, as reported by the World Economic Forum in 2016. Additionally, according to the Botswana Labor Market Signals on Demand for Skills Policy Note 2 (93045), critical thinking skills, literacy skills, and numeracy skills are key skills to improve labor productivity and employement within higher education in Botswana. I know and believe through my research, and published peer-reviewed research, that literacy levels also impacts behavior, and the way in which people naviagte their society. Behavioral skills is another high priority of improvement within the Botswana educational system and labor markets.
As I walked home after speaking with the senior teacher about this issue, I felt angry. I felt bothered that there was nothing I (or we) could do to help the education culture realize that their students can write summaries and use their own words to do so. I simply cannot believe there is no hope or pathway forward. We cannot prevent their ability to learn this very essential skill and cut their futures before they are able to become who they could be.
My heart felt immensely upset at the thought that most if not all of the students I walk by every day at work and say hello to are being disserviced, and perhaps mostly so, because the funding, policies and practices needed to be-in improved service to their education are just not in place. Faculty and staff care about their students, and so do I. I cannot spend my Fulbright experience simply mimicking the way some elements of teaching English has been done, if how it has been done is not supporting higher cognitive learning and the initiative to bring to the classroom, 21st Century, student-centered, outcome-based, or objective-based learning.
In our meeting, the senior teacher commented that our conversation reminded him of an African proverb. I was a new broom. The proverb says, "A new broom sweeps well, but the old broom knows all the corners".
There is much truth in this. But it is also true in my opinion, that the old broom's corners are fit for the old broom. New brooms create their own corners, by learning from the old brooms and their corners. New brooms sweep away or sweep into, where the old brooms cannot, thereby, expanding old corners into new ones.
That is a cycle of social human life.