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Bottom up, top down, or upside down?

November 27, 2010 15 comments

Given the proper conditions, all may blossom.

How can we expect to change education when the people in charge don’t really feel like doing much about it? Besides doing something to ease the criticism, and maybe to appease the harsher critics, why would the government want to make things really work in education? It’s a known fact that the less educated you are, the easier it is for you to be manipulated. Sure, your brain may also play tricks on us when we are educated, and some might even be stubborn and refuse to change their minds. Nevertheless, we’ve got to admit that education is the only one thing that can open doors. It is the only one thing that can’t be taken away from you. Cliché?! It’s been said so often, that, yes, this might come across as cliché. But isn’t it true?

Real change in education, or in any other industry, has got to come from the ideas of those who are involved in it. Yet, most people in charge of public education are not teachers. This goes way beyond principals, I’m talking about those who are responsible for letting principals and teachers work. Politicians who should be working to make it happen, are actually getting in the way of change. In Brazil, to be more specific, in Brasília, the capital of Brazil, there’s always news about public schools that are about to be shut down simply because the building can’t welcome students any longer. Whenever you turn on the TV, there are stories of schools whose windows don’t open nor close – the ones which are open can’t be closed when it rains, and the ones that are closed can’t be opened when it’s hot. Not to mention worse problems yet – bathrooms that don’t work, schools with no food to serve to the kids, no water in the water fountains… and to think that those who went to public schools in Brazil 40 years ago (yes, a very long time ago), say that public education was actually better than the kind of education you could get in private schools.

Nowadays, if you’d like to give your children a chance in an educational system that puts kids through gruelling exams in order to have a chance to study at university, you’re likely to do whatever it takes to send your student to private schools. One would think kids would be treated differently there. I once had the opportunity to meet a principal from a school in Australia when he came to talk at our language institute. When we were talking about how schools were in Brasília, he was shocked to hear that most private schools put about 50 students in a class. When he said that most of his teachers would refuse to teach if there were more than 20 students in a class, I was aghast at such thought. Having studied and taught in a school with 50 students per class myself, I couldn’t believe it when I heard that teachers could have such a reaction. But it only makes sense.

Even though there might be fewer students per group in some public schools, teachers sometimes haven’t got chalk to write on the board, and kids haven’t been given a copy of the coursebook to work with in class. To make matters worse, there’s absolutely no security in most of such schools, which leads to plenty of other problems such as drug trafficking, bullying, fights and others. When a principal finally gets the money to buy the computers and create a computer lab, more often than not the computers are stolen within a month. Now, how could we change such a chaotic situation?

I believe real change will only happen when teachers are really heard about their needs. They are the ones who are really there. They know the real deal. They know what it takes to start making changes, but… how would we expect anyone to really hear their complaints if those who are responsible for funding, and who should be working for the people, are oblivious to such a reality. What sickens me the most is seeing an interview on TV when they say that they’re going to create a commission to investigate what needs to be done and that people shouldn’t worry, that next year every thing is going to be fixed. And we all know, I guess, how the story ends. Year after year schools are shut down, and politicians say they’ll build new ones. And that they do, but at what cost? The money that should be used to maintain schools goes straight to their pockets, and they make even more money when building new ones. They aren’t concerned about education, they’re concerned about the construction of more and more schools, as it’s much easier to embezzle when they have these public constructions.

But then again, why would they want to promote any real change? Most of them send their kids to the best private schools in the country, and some even send their kids abroad. Of course they’re going to say that everything is just fine in public schools. They don’t depend on it. So, change that should be bottom up can’t happen because those at the top don’t know and refuse to see that lots of things have to be done. And change that could be top down also doesn’t happen because… well, because they really don’t want it to happen for many different reasons.

Isaac Asimov created the three rules for robots. Perhaps we should come up with three rules for politicians as well. I have a suggestion for such rules:

1. All politicians must have a university degree – Let’s face it, there are pre-requirements for anything we want to do in life. You want to be a doctor, you’ve got to go through med school. You want to be a lawyer, law school it is. If you want to be an accountant, well, you have to study for that too. However, at least in Brazil, you can be a politician just by not being illiterate. I concede that having a degree isn’t a guarantee of anything in terms of integrity and morals, but let’s look at it from the following perspective: a legislator’s job is to create laws, and laws can’t be written or read and interpreted and then voted on if you can’t really read AND understand what you’ve read.

2. All politicians must have their bank accounts public – If you’ve chosen to work in politics, you’re supposed to have made this choice because you want to make things work for your country. You’re paid by the people and you work for the people, and as a citizen I’d love to know exactly how much money I’m paying you.

3. All politicians must use public services – Schools, hospitals, and even public transport. Being a politician in charge of public education and sending your students to private schools is just like being the owner of a restaurant but never having your meals there. It’s like being the owner of a school, but sending your kids to study in a different school. Well, if you don’t trust your school enough to send your kids there, why would I send mine? Yet, this is what happens. It’s only when politicians are forced to send their kids and family to public schools, to use public hospitals and to use public transport that they might start thinking about making real changes. Other than that, they’ll just close their eyes to all problems.

If you ask me, I’d say that it’s not bottom up nor top down. The whole system is upside down.

Categories: Education Tags: , , ,
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