Who is looking after the nation’s children?

Dear Editor,

Who is looking after our children?

As an educator with a Master’s Degree in Elementary and Early Childhood Education and 30 plus years of instruction in The Bahamas, I would like to lend my voice to the national discourse on education.

For years, I have been advocating that research should drive our instruction. My approach to reaching our children underwent a paradigm shift from teaching Spanish to teaching children when I realized that I needed to stop only delivering content – the sage on the stage — and begin reaching the needs of my individual students.

Needless to say, my instructional experience underwent a seismic shift. In this article I want to share research data that needs to inform instruction in The Bahamas especially in this season where we are challenged with pandemic issues of virtual versus face-to-face instruction.

Here is the research that was key to yielding positive results in my classrooms over the last 10 plus years.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943). At the basic level it states that individuals’ most basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher-level needs.

These physiological needs include the need for food, water, fresh air followed by the need for safety and shelter.

If we were take stock of our low income communities from whence the majority of our nation’s youth come, how can we expect to move from a national ‘D’ average if we are not collectively working to alleviate the most basic needs of our “little darlings”?

Why are we not combining forces of church, government, community and business leaders to assist parents to provide the most basic needs so our children will no longer have to learn with hungry bellies living in unsafe communities?

Blooms’ Three Domains of Learning (1956). Instruction in our schools is focused on the cognitive (brain learning) and the psychomotor (physical development).

Teachers, do you know that there is a third area that balances out Blooms’ child development theory? The affective domain includes the manner in which we deal with things emotionally, such as feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivation and attitudes.

There was particular research data that solidified the need for educators to recognize that our students’ emotional intelligence (EI) is equally or maybe even more important than their intelligence quotient (IQ).

Susan Kruger (Soar Study Skills) shared research that stated that “emotions are the on/off switch to learning”. The Emotional Center is the first section of the brain to receive information. The Emotional Center of the brain is very primitive.

It has only three modes: Red Alert! Neutral Rest; Green In the Zone.

The “Red alert! Danger!” mode perceives immediate threats whether it’s a pit-bull chasing you or the teacher shouting at you, or a friend said something mean about you on social media — all situations are perceived threats.

When triggered into “Red alert! Danger!” mode, the brain goes on alert. It pulls chemicals from the rest of the brain to prepare for the danger lurking ahead. That means the rest of your brain has limited functionality while in “Red alert! Danger!” mode. Are we getting this people?

How can students who are in a perpetual emotional state of “Red alert! Danger!” mode receive instruction? So teachers, we must stop saying, “These children just don’t want to learn.”

It is the responsibility of the teacher to address each learners’ needs by incorporating instructional strategies that address both their socio-emotional and cognitive needs without sacrificing content.

Our approach must be holistic, addressing the needs of the whole child.

Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences (1983). All children are smart. We just need to determine “how” they are smart.

Howard Gardner’s theory challenged the traditional notion that there is one single type of intelligence that focuses on cognitive abilities. Gardner espoused that the educator needs to plan lessons that address the eight multiple intelligences in the classroom: musical, visual, kinaesthetic, naturalistic, verbal, logical, intrapersonal and interpersonal.

So many of our Bahamian children are musically and artistically inclined but they only get to utilize these skills in those specific classes. All lesson plans should be creatively designed to respect all intelligences in the classroom.

OAS/COB Academic Resiliency Research (2014). This is an excellent way to introduce the comparative research conducted by the OAS/COB that studied college and high school students in The Bahamas, St. Lucia and Jamaica.

The study concluded that Bahamian students were more predominant in the kinaesthetic learning style compared to the visual, auditory and reading styles. This means that a majority of our students process information through touch (tactile) and movement.

The research utilized the VARK Learning Styles (1992) questionnaires to assess the students who participated.

I encourage teachers to utilize the questionnaire designed by Fleming and Mills to determine how their students learn so as to inform their instruction going forward. Please ensure that your students know their individual learning styles as well. Have that conversation.

This is a mere synopsis of the research data that contributed to my transformation in instruction.

Notice the dates. In each instance an educational psychologist came along and formulated a new approach to address the needs of the culture at that time. I have allowed them all to inform my instruction.

However, we are now in 2022. Who is going to produce the next pedagogical theory to address this new framework in education?

Education is and should be dynamic, constantly evolving. As educators we should be evolving as well because after all, we are all looking after the nation’s children.

Alicia Brennen-Brathwaite

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