The lucrative (or not) market for educators to sell ideas

The school year in Kenya has now been over for 4 days (we go January to late November/early December).  I have finally had time to get in some perusal of news in education outside of my immediate school and would like to take the following article and opinion letters in the NY Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/education/15plans.html?scp=1&sq=lesson%20plans%20online&st=cse

one step further.

In Kenya, many teachers do not write lesson plans in the way Americans are used to doing.  Kenya has schemes of work which is a broad ‘lesson’ if you will, with few details indicating the steps, methodology, etc. of delivering education.  Part of the reason for this is the fact that everyone must use the Kenyan mandated textbooks. The lack of access to other books and materials makes it difficult to teach something that is not in the ‘textbook’.   Since there is no true difference, teachers have a tendency to copy the rough syllabus and direct quotes from the text book, do a few limited elaborations/examples and call it a day.  This then promotes the chalk and talk mentality common in many classrooms. It also increases the likelihood of education not ‘improving’ to the degree that it can from one generation to the next as direct copying from a text is not an effective method of learning.

To add insult to this stupefying lack of depth in  lesson planning, it is also common for teachers to buy whole sets of exams from another school so that teachers can avoid having to construct meaningful exams. Learners  in high schools are graded on two exams – middle of term and end of term, material being cumulative from Form 1 (freshman year) to Form 4 (senior year).   Because there are very few ways to ask the same questions, especially when using memorization, listing and repeating back said copied notes, the bought exams are nothing more than a money making scheme.

I explained to my teachers it would be much more effective to get a cadre of teachers from a variety of schools to craft an exam, deliver it, and have another teacher (not yourself) grade your exam and in exchange you do the same.  This process allows for teachers to develop their skill set, to share information and essentially improve/overhaul the education system.

What I find terribly sad/disturbing about the American purchasing of lesson plans is the lack of effort on the part of teachers to construct a meaningful lesson and improve their skill set in understanding, delivery of ideas to students. No, it is not easy to do lesson planning – it is also not easy to be a neurosurgeon, airline pilot, member of the armed forces or farmer.

The logic which teachers are using for selling lesson plans (not taking a vow of poverty to be a teacher) is merely obscuring the flagrant misuse of capitalism.  It is this same abuse of logic that allows Kenyan teachers to purchase exams.

For the sake of education, I look forward to working with teacher colleagues who are willing to put in the effort, time, energy to improve their craft and create a learning environment in their classroom.  Merely facilitating/ imparting a pre-measured portion of information (standards in the states and syllabus in Kenya) is insufficient to raise up students to the level of being ever inquisitive and applying their knowledge.

I believe the comments American teachers might want to think about would be the implications of being lazy and uncommitted in the face of doing one of the most important jobs in the world- passing on knowledge, culture and improving the conditions of living standards for everyone.  For my Kenyan teachers, it is not necessarily about ease of work as lack of exposure to what actually needs to happen.  Kenya has only had compulsory education for 11 years. It will take somewhere in the vicinity of another 40-90 years to ‘push’ education through the population to make it a force of bringing improvements in Kenya.

If American teachers truly wanted to obtain recognition and achieve something, they would do a stint in Peace Corps and go to a third world country.  Once one sees what happens when people are not educated (by  politics, government, poverty, etc.) and have to survive by ignorance, then they are able to reframe how they look at the SIGNIFICANCE of their career.  Education is not about test score numbers or profits (those are business concepts – see The Black Swan –by N. Taleb), rather it is about improving the human condition.

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