Back to Basics?

  Take education. J-PAL ran trials on many questions, from the effect of remedial classes in India and Ghana (enormous) to what happens if you double the number of teachers in Kenya (not much). One conclusion kept cropping up: the biggest improvements to educational outcomes occur when you teach children things they are capable of learning. That sounds like a statement of the obvious. But it is quite different from the view of (say) the OECD, a club mainly of rich countries, which runs influential studies on mathematics and literacy among its members. The OECD thinks the quality of teachers matters most. J-PAL’s finding also goes against the grain of what many parents believe: that the focus should be on the quality of the curriculum.

Taken from an Economist article on Randomised Controlled Trials.

If you can talk you can sing; if you can walk you can dance.

Zimbabwean proverb.

So much of the education system here is preoccupied with trying to get children singing and dancing that it forgets to ensure that children can talk and walk in the first place. Curriculums here try and impress rather than being structured so that children achieve a basic rudimentary level of literacy and numeracy at the very least; so you end up having children unable to confidently do two digit additions being taught algebra, children unable to read simple CVC words being asked to complete complex comprehension questions. It frustrates teachers, it frustrates students, and it frustrates me. It is a difficult issue to address; focusing on the basics, focusing on what the children are capable of learning can be seen as defeatist and unambitious. I am not by any means saying that students in The Gambia are incapable of doing complex trigonometry or reading Shakespeare; I am saying that any child unable to do any of the previous necessary educational steps, unable to metaphorically walk and talk, will not be able to reach their capability potential, and that is where the education system here should redirect its efforts – to the basics.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it

Upton Sinclair

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Speaking of singing and dancing, I went to see Jalibah in Bansun last month.

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