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What seems to be the problem?

By Tim Middleton

For any plant, shrub or tree that we grow, the most important part is the part not seen. What we see is the beauty, the fruit, the shade, the growth but what holds it there, what keeps it standing, we do not see. The trunk, the branches, the leaves, these are all important and exciting but they all stem from what is under the ground, from the roots. Even if we chop away at the tree or shrub but leave the roots, new branches or shoots appear. The roots can tunnel deep into the ground; they can be entangled and powerful, reaching out further and further. If we want rid of the flower, shrub, tree or even weed, we need to remove the roots.

In human terms, when we find we have something wrong with us, health-wise, we go to the doctor. The doctor no doubt says, “What seems to be the problem?”, not, “What is the problem?” as that is why we go to the doctor, for her to tell us what the problem is! We only know the symptom but we do not necessarily know the root cause. We may go to the doctor with a sore back, so the doctor treats the sore back but the sore back may not be the real problem; the problem might be in the foot which makes us have to walk differently, which in turn puts extra pressure on our back.

We need to look at these two examples in terms of education. When a child misbehaves, the teacher or indeed parent will deal with what is seen on the surface; certain actions have certain consequences. We will then hand out the consequences with the parting words to the child, “Remember that your actions have consequences!” What we tend to neglect is to say the equally, if not more, important point that actions do not simply have consequences but also have causes. Too often we do not deal with the cause. If we ask someone why they did something, very often their response will be, “Because!” In other words, they do not know (or rather they do not want to admit it). The causes are the hidden roots that affect and indeed determine the development of a child. If we simply apply the consequence of chopping away at the child (punishing him, in other words), new shoots will still appear: we must deal with the problem at the root.

Recently people have been asking, “What’s gone wrong with education in Zimbabwe?” The symptom they have diagnosed is the poor results in national exams. Why have pupils performed so badly? The expert amateur educational “doctors” will quickly point out it is purely because the children were not taught for the majority of last year; others may try to go deeper and argue that so little money is put into education (teachers paid a pitiful amount, which leads to demotivation; resources not available in terms of text books, connectivity).

The question has to be asked though: is that the real cause? Maybe there are much deeper roots that are still taking hold and not letting go. Why is there no money for education? It must be because other things are considered more important than education. But why are other things considered more important? Is it because we have taught people poorly in the past, that they do not see the value and importance of education? Or is it because the education we offer does not work? After all, all those who make the decisions about education went to school themselves once upon a time. The education we provide may be what is at fault.

We might look further at the education we offer. The New Curriculum is wonderful — in theory. Everyone must learn swimming in primary school — yet probably over ninety percent of primary schools in this country do not have a swimming pool. Exit Learner Profiles include Critical Thinking, quite rightly, it being one of the twenty-first century learning skills, yet anyone who questions how things are done is liable to be silenced. Furthermore, teachers have not been trained in this art while children are wired differently today yet we continue to teach them the same way that we were taught. We still want qualifications instead of character. All these may be factors at the root of it all.

We have got to help our children understand that causes are more important than consequences — deal with them and we remove the consequences. We also must understand ourselves. We have to get to the root of the problem in education, as that will be the most valuable lesson for our children. If we do not, it will be a lost cause. Get to the root — that is the only route to go!

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