Killing creativity: the Jamaican School experience

Exploring creativity

“There’s something wrong with your child”,  words you really don’t want to hear as a parent from your child’s teacher. Whats worse is the statement “We can’t handle your child in this school anymore.”

I experienced something like this when I found one of my children sitting beside the teacher with their back to the rest of the class. I asked about this and was told my child disrupts other children in the class. So I asked the teacher to give me an idea of when she is disruptive. The teacher told me that she chats to the other children when she has nothing to do. Hmmmm nothing to do? I thought.

Well as it turned out nothing to do meant my child completed her work for the day by 10 a.m. in grade 1. After that the teacher gave her early lunch and when she finished she sat around doing nothing until 1:30 p.m. Just in case you are wondering the school has a reputation for a good academic program and great teachers. But back to the story. My child eventually became restless and talked with other children, preventing them from doing their work. I asked the teacher what she planned to do about this and was told there were no further plans. No additional work, no projects, nothing.

Well that was the last term the school saw both of my children ( I found out the same thing was happening to my son in his kindergarten, only difference being he got more of the same tasks to re-learn). Now they are happy in a school that adjusts to the level of each child’s ability and consistently challenges them.

In another post I will tell you of another school experience we had. That one is far more enriching!

In my practice I meet parents weekly who are at their wits end trying to fit their child into an average frame of mind. What this means is many teachers, especially in public school, can only teach average children. Paying attention to anyone outside of that sphere is simply impossible on their time, resources and in their minds.

So if your child is having difficulty learning a concept then they are sidelined. If the child knows the concept backwards and forwards, they too are sidelined. Now, I do acknowledge those teachers who have the presence of mind to try teaching  through different modalities and those that offer different levels of challenge. However, there are those teachers who do not and the side effect is marginalization of the child who is not average.

Sidelining occurs with increasing frequency when behavior is thrown into the mix. “The child cannot sit still” or “the child is a chatterbox”. These labels cause the parents to worry incessantly and berate the child for misbehaving.

Then you have to decide what is misbehaving and what is normal. For example, teachers may want complete obedience and silence when not being spoken to. Is this realistic in a class of 4 year olds? are effective behavior management strategies used? are the children challenged and given interesting projects encouraging joyful learning? let’s think about it.

We must ask ourselves as parents is our child’s love of learning encouraged in their current school? If not what are we going to do about it?

One more caveat, there are children who have a legitimate learning disorder or even a neurological disorder preventing them from remembering concepts learnt. Those children may need special education and should be assessed for this.

On a slightly different tack, I read with dismay that Anya Schnoor of Scotia Wealth management, said the workforce coming out of the schools in Jamaica is largely unemployable. Its sad but quite possibly true. Of the 2000 plus children I have assessed in Jamaica many do not read at their age appropriate level and math is alien territory. Primarily because our education system is over-overburdened and underfunded.

This leads on a microcosmic level to our teachers not having the time or mindset to even think about attending to this one “rambunctious tough-headed child”. Don’t even ask about the teacher who has to deal with the child who knows calculus by age 8.

I am thinking about all worried parents and a perplexed and frustrated children trying to fit in to the average mainstream with failing grades, many nighttime arguments and fears of special education school.

I want to say to them schools as we know them are designed to train a workforce that existed in the industrial revolution. We are no longer in this age as a result what and how we teach our children need an upgrade as well. The current education system needs our help.

We are in the information age where creativity is king. Learning the basics is important but much more important will be how well you are able to think on your own and how you excel at problem solving. All learned through creativity.

My favorite speaker on new learning paradigms is Sir Ken Robinson. Here is his hilarious and insightful take as a master educator on the change needed in education and …you guessed it: CREATIVITY. Please watch to the end and be resourceful!


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