|Comparative Religion and Ethics |
I want now to discuss the major issue of the development of ethical values that could address our materialism and selfishness. There needs to be a programme of education in Comparative Religion, and Ethics in schools.
Under this umbrella we should also include culture and civics. I will quote from a communication I received from a teacher of Religious Education in a secondary school in the United Kingdom (UK) where this subject is compulsory.
“ There are two possible pitfalls in a multicultural society: the one is to take the liberal view that ‘all religions are fundamentally from the same source'. This denies integrity to members of a number of religions for whom commitment means a rejection of this notion.
The other is to believe that there is no possible benefit from communication between human beings whose world views are fundamentally incompatible.
This is clearly a recipe for social discord. For me the classroom is a microcosm of society, and in RE lessons we try to establish a ‘community of enquiry' into a number of world views, particularly religious ones, in order to test truth claims and give pupils the skills needed either to affirm already held beliefs or to search for themselves.
It works because in such a community they are taught that relationships are more important than winning arguments, and being reasonable therefore means more than being rational. Sometimes people just have to agree to disagree, but can still show respect.
This is not the same as accepting things which are against your belief, but it is acknowledging another person's right to choose, and your own responsibility to live in peace wherever possible.
We try and allow authentic representatives of different world views to have their say in a carefully constructed context, to avoid the accusation of indoctrination. (e.g. a Buddhist monk is asked to comment on the suffering of the holocaust, followed by a survivor of the holocaust and then by a Christian).
The pupils devise the questions to be asked, and in the end give their own conclusions as to why there is suffering in the world. They are being asked to develop an approach to deal with whatever life throws at them, after hearing how others have overcome suffering.
In the classroom I encourage a robust integrity and reasonable conflict based on relationships that can 'take the load'; this is better in the long run for society, rather than ignoring differences ”.
Religious Education and Civics (Citizenship) are compulsory subjects in the United Kingdom . How many of us have good knowledge of each other's religious beliefs? It is this ignorance which breeds animosity. In most instances culture is related to religion, and civics includes how we organise society in relationships which accept religious and cultural differences. Training programmes would have to be set up at UWI and at the Teacher's Training Colleges to train teachers in this new subject.
Our emphasis on competitive scholarships is misplaced. The competitive scholarship system has the effect that we judge our schools by the number of scholarships the school wins and on this basis we regard our schools as “prestige” or not.
Such schools then get the best students from the Secondary Entrance Assessment Examination (SEA), formerly the Common Entrance Examination (CEE). Such “prestige” schools, since they receive the top-level students, should produce a minimum of eight CXC passes from all students but they often do not. Many such schools give undue attention to scholarship candidates to the disadvantage of other pupils in the school.
This sends an unintended message to our young people – to use a mixed metaphor “to him (or her) that hath shall it be given and the devil take the hindmost”- hardly a lesson in equity.
The schools should be judged on the “value added”, that is the performance at CXC in relation to the CEE or SEA grade, and not solely on the basis of the performance of the scholarship candidates who get special coaching. If this is done we may find that some “non-prestige” schools are doing better overall than the “prestige” schools.
We are also being unfair to our bright students since they are required to pursue a course which they are capable of completing in one year or at the most two years, for three or four years in order to win a scholarship.
Further our open scholarships are tenable in any part of the world for any university programme, no matter how irrelevant to the needs of Trinidad and Tobago . This must be the only country in the world that uses tax payers' money to ensure that our most able nationals do not attend our own university.
Qualified students should be given a grant to attend UWI or the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) based on a means test, and the top students may be given gold, silver or bronze medals. Scholarships to attend universities abroad should be in specific subjects and only when the courses are not offered at UWI or UTT.
However some of the students who do well in their undergraduate degrees at UWI or UTT should be encouraged to go abroad for postgraduate studies.
The fact that they will have spent their formative years of coming into adulthood (17 or 18 to 20 or 21) at university in Trinidad and Tobago will increase the likelihood of their returning home even if they go abroad for postgraduate studies.
Developing self-confidence in pupils
Self-confidence, particularly of our male youth, is sorely lacking. It is my view that a major cause for this is our authoritarian approach to teaching – the chalk and teacher-talk method – and not a word from the pupils.
Thirty-four years ago my second son who attended a “prestige” school in Trinidad after a year of secondary level schooling in the UK , said to me then that in the UK the students participated in the lesson. However, at the “prestige” school in this country, if the student tried to say anything, he was told by the teacher to shut up.
I have a grandson who recently attended the same prestige school and nothing has changed!
This authoritarian approach permeates our whole society, no doubt because of the approach to teaching referred to earlier, not least of all in our governance, and reduces our level of democracy in decision-making at all levels.
I believe that the lack of effective leadership in many spheres and shortcomings in our system of management are in part related to our lack of self-confidence created by the education system and by our deficiency in ethical values. These two problems, lack of leadership and poor management are severe handicaps in solving many of the problems that plague our society.
This must mean that the school principals be given the resources to carry out the additional responsibilities of financial control of allocated funds. There must be an agreed formula for funding based largely on the number of students, but also taking into account the age of the school since this would affect the cost of maintenance.
In my view we should also consider providing the denominational schools with the resources to employ the teachers for their schools with the Ministry of Education specifying the minimum required qualifications. Perhaps then we could remove the requirement that some teachers be “non-graduate”!
Absenteeism and the need for substitute teachers
In the UK it is illegal to leave a class without supervision and the principal and the School Board would be liable. In this country, on a daily basis at many schools, even prestige denominational schools, classes are without supervision.
A sufficient number of teachers should be available on each school staff establishment to cater for normal absenteeism, but there should also be a pool of substitute teachers available in each school district to fill in when there are extraordinary circumstances.
Every effort should be made to encourage the formation of student Societies, including Student Councils. This is an important means of adding to the self-confidence of students by teaching them to manage their own affairs.
Recently, I listened to a television programme in which the Chairperson of the (Catholic) Commission on Social Justice participated and the discussion touched on the support that young males get from membership of “gangs” when parental support is
absent. It seems to me that schools could capture this need for group support by promoting student societies to give the young people a sense of belonging to a social entity. Some “prestige” schools discourage the formation of student councils. The reverse should be the case, that is, the school should encourage students to take the initiative in managing their affairs (with the necessary guidance and supervision).