By Matthew Woolford According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the purpose of learning is four-fold:
1. To know
2. To do
3. To live together
4. To be a flourishing human being.
Most learning, especially in the developing world, tends to be built around the first two pillars only, creating a student, and by extension citizen, who is easier to ‘manage’. The latter two pillars emphasise community building and reflective thinking respectively.
This is where challenging the status quo, critical thinking and learning to live in a society with differing views is developed. The incorporation of these two pieces of the puzzle builds greater harmony through self-awareness and organically teaches transformational leadership. Moreover, it allows the student a greater role in the authorship of his or her own education. John Dewey saw education as an emancipation and enlargement of personal experience. He distinguished between ‘having’ and ‘knowing’ an experience, emphasising the consciousness of the encounter.
David Kolb’s Cycle of Active Learning called for the student to ‘do, review, learn and apply’, key ingredients of research and critical interrogation of information. What is remarkable is that these two educational theorists, born 80 years apart, were able to arrive at, more or less, the same conclusion. Their theories were based on the premise that the student understands best how he or she learns and should be encouraged to challenge himself/herself. Studying hard has never been enough within itself.
It has to be paired with the requisite emotional intelligence to guarantee the best results. This is why praise and criticism are often empty forms of feedback, adding nothing to the learning process. One of the more progressive approaches to learning locally is through Alive to The World, which, through Communities Alive Education and Training (www.caettt.com), is soon to be delivered online at all 118 primary schools overseen by the Catholic Education Board of Management.
I had the privilege of teaching this course to two Standard Three classes at Nelson Street Boys’ RC in 2019 and the responses of the students were honest and direct. They were able to articulate their feelings and displayed a greater understanding of the world around them than the ‘chalk and talk’ approach to education readily gives them credit for. The teachers were also welcoming of this approach, assisting the students in ‘finding their own voice’ and challenging them to say what was on their minds.
The Birdman of Alcatraz
Robert Franklin Stroud was born on January 28, 1890, in Seattle, Washington. Raised by an abusive father, he left school in Third Grade (Standard 3) and ran away from home at 13. At 18, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for manslaughter. In 1916, he stabbed a guard to death in the prison mess hall, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. US President Woodrow Wilson, however, commuted his sentence to life imprisonment without parole. During recreation in the prison yard in 1920, he came across a fallen nest with baby sparrows.
He took the birds back to his cell, sparking his enthusiasm in ornithology. He read every book he could on the subject, recorded his observations and was able to fill the gaps in the research available at the time. He was granted permission to raise and breed canaries and reached a point where he had 300 of them living in cigar boxes in an adjoining cell. He also built a makeshift laboratory to develop homemade medicines for birds, which he sold via mail-order delivery.
After writing a 60,000-word manuscript, Stroud saw his Diseases of Canaries published in 1933. He continued his research, leading to the 1943 publication of his second book, Stroud’s Digest on the Diseases of Birds. Filled with pages of his own illustrations, the Digest came to be considered one of ornithology’s authoritative works. In late 1942, Stroud was transferred, sans birds, to the US Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island, off the coast of San Francisco, California. Still in solitary confinement, he continued writing, producing a history of the US prison system and an autobiography, though he was denied permission to release them.
In 1955, Thomas E Gaddis’s published Birdman of Alcatraz, detailing Shroud’s violent personal history but also depicts a man struggling to preserve his dignity within a repressive penal system. In 1962, the feature film Birdman of Alcatraz was released in theaters, featuring Burt Lancaster as Stroud, for which he earned one of his four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The movie Birdman of Alcatraz is an inspiring watch for anyone who wants proof that the Holy Spirit can provide instruction to anyone, anywhere and at any time.
Back to the future
Dr Terrence Farrell commented, “…we need longitudinal studies to understand whether stellar performance at A-Levels is sustained into university and beyond.” I totally agree with this statement. This would give the Government of Trinidad and Tobago data-driven feedback on the allocation of scarce resources and better align funding to the needs of the society. This may very well be the reason that scholarships are now awarded in ten cognate groups based solely on academic performance.
I congratulate all the scholarship recipients of 2020/21. But questions still abound. Where do they end up on completion of their tertiary education? Are women any more empowered in a society where they win (at least in 2020/21) nearly twice as many scholarships as their male counterparts? Is this even a measure of our happiness to begin with? What future for education? I don’t know, but I believe we have long passed the need for having scholarships and Top 100 lists of any kind as nation-building markers of success.