The Two Choices Of An Educator

*Thoughts that come to you while being stuck on a public bus*

The other day, when the bus trip to the city took once more longer than planned thanks to escalating Bangkok traffic, I did something I usually don’t do anymore. I checked some of my Facebook groups. When reading through the first few updates in those groups I remembered why I stopped checking them but then one sincere question in the ‘Teachers of Thailand’ community caught my eye. The question went something like this “Hi, I’m teaching college level students and try to prepare them for the real world but their scores in the standardized tests aren’t getting any better. What should I do?”

I’ve been thinking about this age old issue also for a while now since those problems aren’t new to any of us of course. What is your main priority. Making students pass (standardized) exams well (if it’s your own exams it’s obviously even easier, but also questionable if you do that) or do you focus on actually having valuable classes where you focus in the bigger picture and hope that students will be interested enough to do work on their own in order to do well in their exams. This would be ideal, of course, and enable students to understand several topics better and see connections and relations but mostly wouldn’t help them to get high scores in nation wide standardized tests (which, despite being highly discussed, simply won’t go away).

So what’s the solution here?

Let’s start with the answers in that mentioned thread. Most foreign teachers in that community suggested to either ‘fake the results’ or to simply practice this certain kind of test more extensively. This would mean less ‘real’ teaching and more reviewing of old, similar, tests in order to prepare students for what’s coming up.

For me, as I mentioned quite often on my education related blog, it’s all about improving teachers and their skills. Enabling teachers to use their specific skills, interests and their passion (which needs to be there, otherwise they wouldn’t be teachers — hopefully). Better teachers, better results. Easy equation. Obviously it’s not as easy as it sounds here and still has some challenges to overcome but it would be a start.

Teachers need to become better, tests need to make more sense, students need to learn how to ‘learn’ and how to use their knowledge.

I’m certainly not the first person to note this, neither will I be the last. The question just is how should this all be going down. How to make sure teachers get better at their jobs? How to change tests so they suck less and how to teach students how to learn and how to apply what they heard in class?

In an ideal world, the answers would be easy.

Teachers become better because they like their jobs. They want to help students, they want to help society and hence think about how to improve their teaching, take courses, attend conferences, seminars, exchange knowledge, etc. Point 1: check.

Point 2: Change tests. Involved educators more and trust that motivated teachers (see point 1) are motivated to provide fair and reasonable tests to their students. A move away from standardized testing towards individual tests needs motivated teachers but would definitely help education in both increasing its standard (without standardized test, isn’t that funny?) and its perception (away from ‘I only learn stuff I don’t need later anyways’).

Lastly motivated teachers and non-standardized testing would, almost automatically, lead to classes that would teach students how to apply knowledge in real life. Having to teach knowledge that’s applicable rather than something is only there to make students pass those standardized tests. Maybe, crazy thought here, tests could be based on solving real life problems rather than just filling in blanks and solving multiple choice questions. Think about what that could do for a students ego, realizing he/she just solved a real problem rather than an abstract, weird, example from an outdated textbook to which the modern day answer would be ‘I would google it’.

Solving all the issues doesn’t sound to difficult now, does it. Well there are obviously also some problems. Two of the biggest problems are that implementing solutions as mentioned above would require time and money. Two things that nobody, especially no company that is out to make a profit, has. These days most schools and Universities are, essentially, companies out to make money and measured by their profitability. They need to make a living, maintain their facilities, pay their staff and make shareholders happy and as long as that works, at least to some extend, right now, why change? Change would mean interruptions, higher costs (educating people, changing approaches, updating facilities, etc.) and less income for the time being.

And here we have the real problem. Education is, essentially, just another item that we’re selling. A product so to speak and just like manufacturers of other products, educational institutions are also looking for the cheapest way possible to produce their product while still keeping and increasing their customer base. Only if we stop treating education like a whole sale item we can really fix what’s wrong and improve on what seems to be like a problem that has been following us for eternity.

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