Dear Parents,

It is without fail that, as a teacher, if you are invited to a home for supper, the other guests on hearing that you are involved in education, start questioning you on the merits, or lack thereof, of curriculums and pedagogy approaches. You can almost predict the questions and the timing! The debate around the table is not entirely unwelcome, as it allows one to reflect and take stock of trends and acknowledge the opinions of others. 

At The Bay Academy, the Grade 11 and 12 students are all busy with International examinations.  There is a definite atmosphere of academia in the school.

Are exams necessary? Is the education that we offer appropriate? As parents and educators, these questions are critical and inevitably lead to debate.

In this letter, I will have no definitive answers. I will, however, hopefully make you pause, question and ponder.

I will start with the opinions of Sir Ken Robinson, an iconic TED speaker, who has been downloaded 40 million times. He is renowned for his opinions on education. In summary, his main points are:

  • Schools kill children’s innate creative talents.
  • The school system prioritises academic ability.
  • The system neglects other intelligences.
  • Creativity is as important as literacy.
  • Subject hierarchies of English, Mathematics & Science over Drama, Dance  &  Art are destructive.
  • Schools encourage conformity rather
  • than diversity of intelligences.

Some of his noteworthy quotes:

‘All kids have talents, and we squander them ruthlessly.’

‘We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it.’

‘Education dislocates people from their natural talents, buried deep; you have to create circumstances where they show themselves.’ 

‘What is education for? Who succeeds? Who are the winners? The purpose is to produce university academics. The whole system is predicated on academic ability, a protracted process of University entrance. Our system has mined our minds for this commodity … .

In summary, he is arguing that schools test factual recall, encourage rote-memorisation and promote conformity; that creativity and the arts, are not provided with the same status as traditional core subjects.

Conversely, it can be argued that repetition and disciplined application, deemed by Sir Ken Robinson as archaic and which are reflected in many current schooling systems, leads to excellence. Then again, this will depend on the style of assessment being implemented. If factual recall and limited critical thinking make up the bulk of the exam, then repetition will be effective. 

Critics will also point out that there must be a hierarchy of subjects. Literacy forms the basis of all subjects, and therefore must be prioritized. 

While conformity in general terms should not be applauded in schools, it is a necessary evil to ensure that a calm and effective learning environment prevails. This will permit children to learn without unruly behavior distracting them.

I am biased. I am a great follower of Sir Ken Robinson. I am not saying that there are no flaws in his arguments. However, in my opinion, the world does need an educational paradigm shift. 

The reality is that we must, first and foremost, not compromise the student’s ability to excel within the prevailing exam system. What we can do is work within the system to ensure that each student excels to the best of their ability in the exams. We must simultaneously ensure that students are critical thinkers, who are able to analyse and apply knowledge over a broad spectrum.

To this end, The Bay Academy must fashion a reflective culture that encourages teachers to reflect on their teaching. We must ensure that students not only excel in exams, but also are equipped to be tenacious, adaptable and be life long learners able to cope in the dynamic work place.

To achieve this, we require reflective, resilient and passionate teachers, who are fascinated by their subject content and generate a well-planned learning environment that sparks engaged inquisitiveness in the child. They understand that teaching is a learning experience for them and that nothing is taught unless it is learnt; that successful teaching is measured by monitoring the progress of each child. 

Having witnessed teaching in many classes in all our schools, I would advocate that our teachers have all these fine qualities. In addition, they promote the importance of values and principles in their teaching.


Kind regards,

John Alexander