Former Tourism Minister Vincent Vanderpool Wallace doggedly drove a core message on achieving success in tourism: Relentless focus on the visitor experience! Similarly, might we achieve greater success in education by relentlessly focusing on the learning experience of students in public schools?
Scholar of mythology, the late Joseph Campbell, might have agreed with Vanderpool Wallace: “I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”
Some may argue with the beginning of his proposition. Yet, from a hermit in his cell praying, “Nearer, My God to Thee” to the thrill seekers atop a rollercoaster ride, hands outstretched to touch the sky, we are endlessly seeking experiences of being alive. The hermit and the rider both hunger for experiences that may captivate the whole person: mind, body and soul.
IDEO is a design consultancy committed to a “human-centered” approach to design and innovation. Education is one of its areas of expertise, the consultancy’s approach to which is instructive:
“Education is the means by which we thrive, individually and collectively. In recent times, the growing complexity and interconnectedness of our now global society has challenged the effectiveness of traditional education systems, which were designed for the needs of the industrial era.
“The old model was built upon the idea that a worker’s job was to apply the basic skills they’d learned in school to specific tasks. To thrive in the 21st century, however, we need to go beyond that—and teach people how to learn, engage, and create.
“The new model is about the constant creation of knowledge and empowering individuals to participate, communicate, and innovate.”
In our drive to improve and transform the experience of tourists to The Bahamas we are constantly focused on every aspect of the visitor experience: booking and ease of travel, ground transportation, general infrastructure and amenities, hotels, entertainment and tours, food and drink.
The Ministry of Tourism has not only a division focusing on the visitor experience. Along with other tourism stakeholders, the Ministry spends enormous time and resources assessing the needs and desires of potential visitors, then rigorously evaluating those who experience our product and services.
Tourism officials obsessively research what works in other destinations, and how we might improve. The fiercely competitive nature of global tourism demands innovation, especially measures designed to make the visitor experience more seamless, easier, exciting and memorable.
Future visitors entering our capital island through the transformed Lynden Pindling International Airport and the Gateway Highway will enjoy a more pleasant experience than those now entering through the dilapidated immigration and customs barn better suited to a warehouse storing outdated consignments.
We have not done nearly as much to improve the student experience in public schools as we have to improve the visitor experience. There are educators and officials committed to reform. There have been laudable efforts to improve teacher training and student performance. We have of necessity invested heavily in building new schools and upgrading others.
Still, depressingly, spectacularly, and yes, tragically, we have not grasped nor are we aggressively responding to the needs and potential of the majority of public school students. For this majority, their school experience mirrors that infamous D grade, plus or minus, which sends some political leaders into a yearly mock shock resembling the horror of the hollow figure in Edvard Munch’s, The Scream.
The efficacy of certain standardized tests in assessing students is dubious, often speaking more to the needs of bureaucrats than the potential and needs of those tested. How about a different test in the form of a survey in which students assess the role played by parents and guardians in their learning experience as well as the quality of instruction by teachers?
Those private school administrators and teachers smug about their school’s results on national exams may profit from self-examination regarding their failure to empower their students to achieve even more of their potential, much of which the annual score-cards miserably fails to record.
A friend of a friend pulled a child from a prestigious local school. The child could have muddled through to graduation. But that wasn’t good enough for a parent anxious for more for a child bored, uninspired and frustrated, by an industrial-era model of schooling that failed to engage both curiosity and talents.
Mere weeks into a new school committed to a well-regarded experiential education model, the transfer student was excelling, learning, alive. This was not just a case of a different individual-learning style. The differential was a school that understands the stark contrast between schooling and education.
Memorization is essential for learning. Still, the mindless memorization of Biblical verses, akin to much of the schooling in our classrooms, no more makes for genuine conversion than rote learning makes for educated citizens. There are more than enough schooled professionals who are poorly-educated.
Sadly, some of the schooled, yet poorly educated, are educators incapable of utilizing effective models and methods of teaching and experiential learning that may better engage students and reduce disciplinary challenges frustrating teachers.
Teacher training and retraining are at the heart of reforming the learning and student experience. Our dedicated public school administrators and teachers need help.
The paradox of reform is that change must be institutionalized in order to be effective and properly evaluated. Institutions committed to reform need iconoclasts, gadflies, and heretics who are intelligent, skeptical and passionate. Such institutions of paradox and innovation are called laboratories.
To wit, how about a Bahamian education lab or consortium bringing together a host of resident talent of educators, artists, thinkers and others with insight and expertise on improving teaching and learning in our schools, both public and private, which is next week’s topic.