A Bar of Chocolate for All to Enjoy
Original Image from Unsplash by Tetiana Bykovets https://unsplash.com/@tetiana_bykovets
Is the lack of technology the real barrier for students from marginalised communities to learn, grow and develop well?
“I want you to see education like a delicious bar of chocolate. Each bite of it is so good that you just want to have more,” said Danny (not his real name), who was conducting a creative study-techniques workshop at a youth camp. Danny was a high school teacher with over 30 years of experience. Learning should be a palatable process where the lesson is delectable and the teaching, enjoyable. Yet we hear of classrooms that lack a sense of dynamism in how lessons are taught and caught by the students. What makes teaching bland and a drudgery for some? What wrings out the joy of imparting knowledge and wisdom to the young? Are students really disinterested in learning? Is the allure of social media derailing them from their studies? Or are teachers passionless and tired, racing from classroom to classroom without a clear sense of purpose and fulfillment? Have some teachers already decided the outcomes of their students?
Original Image from Unsplash by Nikitha S https://unsplash.com/@kryptonitenicky
Not everyone has the same opportunities for education.Recently, a video of a teacher berating a student from the Bottom 40% (B40) community* for not owning a computer went viral. The student had apparently logged into the online class using a mobile phone instead of a computer. The teacher, who appeared triggered by his lack of technology, queried about his family circumstances and made some disparaging remarks. “If your (elder) sister owns a gold bracelet, you should ask her to sell it off and buy you a computer. That is why you can’t study, because you don’t have a computer,” she curtly told him. The boy had mentioned that his father was not working and his mother had passed away. She continued with her rant on how the computer was of utmost importance to her. “Even if I owned only five articles of clothes, the computer is a must for me to have.” “You will eventually drop out of my class because you do not own a computer,” she remarked after noting that he should already be owning a computer by now as he was in the fifth semester. The 1-minute 45-second video ended with her closing words: “That is why I don’t like working with B40 students. It is because their minds are on other things instead education.” She then told him to switch off his camera. Many from marginalised communities like the B40, refugees, indigenous and the stateless have difficulties accessing schools or learning centres. They don’t have the funds or means to enroll into them and much less own tools to attend even online classes. Access to education for refugees and stateless people are limited because of their lack of legal status, and the B40s and indigenous communities are commonly affected by poverty. Yet, despite such barriers, many still have an indomitable desire to learn. But what often puts out their fire are the stigma, stereotypes and limiting beliefs that others unthinkably place on them.
Original Image from Unsplash by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu https://unsplash.com/@emmages
What can we do to make learning meaningful for all?Firstly, our perspectives need to change. We have to recognise that everyone needs to be given equal opportunities for education, regardless of their backgrounds. Education is a wholesome meal that everyone should enjoy and benefit from. When we believe that education has an intrinsic value in shaping, equipping and empowering a person, we will start to find ways to create access for all. Secondly, we must check our biases. What patterns of thinking do I have that put barriers on others to learn? Do I believe that people from a certain race, economic status, culture or background are not worth the time investing in? Do I think that only a certain combination of tools or prerequisites will qualify someone to learn? Our biases need to be checked constantly, because they silently motivate our attitudes, behaviours and decisions that can either help or further impair a person in need. Thirdly, we ought to recognise that everyone has a different way of learning, a different starting point and have different hurdles in life to overcome while running this marathon of growth and development. In Sir Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk entitled Do Schools Kill Creativity, he said “We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence. We know three things about intelligence. One, it’s diverse. We think about the world in all the ways that we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.” If we apply only one metric, one approach and one-fits-all solutions, we run the risk of limiting the opportunities for growth and development for some students — namely the children from marginalised circumstances. The survival and success of the next generation is really dependent on the opportunities they have today. We can help provide them with equal opportunities to grow and develop sustainably!
*According to the 2019 statistics in Malaysia, our government classified our population into three main groups based on their gross monthly household income: B40 meaning bottom 40% (low income), M40 meaning medium 40% (average income), and T20 meaning top 20% (high income). Source: https://www.iqiglobal.com/blog/malaysia-income-what-is-b40-m40-t20-are-you-qualified-for-kita-prihatin/
The late Sir Ken Robinson was an author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education and arts bodies. In his well received TED TALK (over 21 million views!), he shares about how children naturally learn in multiple and creative ways, but somewhere along their educational journeys, they lose this sense of creativity, and are conditioned to think in a narrow way. This 20-minute long video is nothing short of insight and inspiration. Do share this and let’s be excited about rethinking education for marginalised grassroots children!