Re-thinking Primary & Middle Years Programs

This may be a personal reflection but I have always believed that only a handful of progressive schools have managed to optimise the sheer energy and potential that presents itself with students in Grades 3 and above, right before they hit the business end of the schooling journey – Grades 9 to 12.

Grades 3 to 8 therefore are great foundations to initiate perspectives and ensure that students are ‘life-ready’ and not simply optimising study skills to get the grades that make teachers and parents ‘proud’.

While Middle School (Grades 6 to 8) somehow manages to hold its own given that these are stepping stones to the board exams that follow, the upper primary Grades 3 to 5 are the in between ones that in many schools are simply years to get by. By Grades 3/4, their functional learning is in place – they are (or should be) able to independently read, write and express themselves on paper as they are verbally. Thinking is also independent and they reman open minded; willing to be inspired and directed, they are conscious enough to want to explore and go beyond.

Here’s a proposition to re-think. To ensure that we create transformations that propel these children to move beyond the ‘book’ (the argument with my blog will never be about online or offline, for I truly believe learning is seamless and must happen anywhere).

Using all the ‘content’ that we must ‘cover’, we design ‘tasks’ through the year and focus on skills and ‘facts’ and ‘perspectives’ that broaden their horizons as students, bring relevance to their learning and give them a ‘real’ sense of what we do when they ‘grow up’.

Many call these life skills. And rightly so, but I am really after – bringing a 360 perspective to careers that they eventually may explore.

Grades 3 to 8 are great milestones for us as educators and parents to allow them to experiment. We must capitalise on these ‘non-threatening’ graded internal examinations to get them ready. With Covid19, I cannot empathise how important this re-think is. For the sake of the children.

What I am I proposing?

I hope we can focus on research skills, writing dissertations, scout type boot camps, understanding facts about the law, human rights, emotions, finance, political perspectives, communication (and not composition and comprehension), time management, design thinking with entrepreneurship, coding, marketing, survival skills, CSR time commitment while at the same time building their foundation with all the technical knowledge they need to pick their specialised subjects (Arts, Commerce & Science) in Grade 9.

2080 is what we need to be focused on, and not just 2020/21 or 2021/22 (depending if you are those that want to write of this year as a gap year) if board exams will be online or graded internally, because if the focus is on skills, these children will comfortably adjust and realign with the stress and anxiety that is associated with any change that happens. Call it the Adversity Quotient, call it life skills, what I am really after is exposure to the ‘truths’.

Our focus on ‘board’ subjects alone – Language, Numeracy, Sciences etc narrows it down and given that every academic board provides us with a framework of what to teach each year, we eventually land up ‘testing’ these and forgetting that there is a world out there that the children are exposed to thanks to their personal travel, media coverage and the social media platforms that exist. They know it, but we never explain it to them, but expect them to cope. And because our conversations with them tend to be so ‘instructional’ and ‘directional’, they tend to drift and then we worry why we are not able to communicate with them effectively and why our mental health challenges are 1 in every 6 children facing some disorder when kids graduate from Middle School to High School.

Dare to re-think?

It does appear daunting doesn’t? What I am proposing is aligning all subject matter content, and creating ‘tasks’ for them to focus on – 3 in a year for example, and changing our approach to teaching – Focus on research skills, flipped classrooms, independent and group work, use of technology to understand perspectives, more talk time by children and guest lecturers, more exposure to industry personnel and experts, more focus on reading and viewing video bytes to critically analyse, more presentation and leads by students, deep dive into their psychology and build their attitudes by exposure to fitness boot camps to get them shaped up and alert, grading their handiwork be it carpentry or stitching, cooking as a core skill to these tasks, focus on their recreational activities during subject research (sports, music, art) essentially treating these years as survival times. Yes and you can pack all this as summative and formatIve graded assessments that will reflect on the report card but with the skills amassed. The report card will be a rich meaningful discussion with parents.

Treating the next few years as ‘lockdown’ experiences ( 4 months extrapolated to 15 months), what can we ‘teach’ to ensure that are children are ready – independently to handle learning, boredom, mood swings, lack of options and how they can use this time to pick up new skills to get by, to improvise, understand what’s happening around them.

Not when I say it this way, it doesn’t seem daunting does it?

Survival. Think how we get these kids to become resilient.

Teachers will be liberated, parents relieved and most of all, we as educators, we may find a lot of our kids achieving. And evolving in ways that their grade book would never reflect.

Dare to embrace this new eduworld order?

Even if it made you re-think. That’s a start for the sake of the future.

An Award winning educationalist (K-12), on the Advisory Board of several schools & edutech companies, she’s a veteran of 3 educational start ups and the Founder of ACE. Pioneering change-maker, she’s passionate about revolutionalising education. |