Education in Decline


Muhammad Naeem | Contributor

I have a front row seat to our education system as a substitute teacher and I am sad to say that our education system is in decline. Now, some would argue that I only have a partial view to the system, because a substitute teacher is not a real teacher, and I agree, that I am not a real teacher. I like to become one, but I am not one right now. But I do get to see the inner workings of a classroom. I get to observe students and their classroom habits, and I even get to examine their learning skills. I have a pretty good idea as to how many teachers really do teach and how their teaching skills are lacking in the fundamental requirements of being a good teacher.

In a nutshell, most teachers are not good teachers, and they don’t really know how to teach properly, and most students are not good students, and they don’t have good learning skills. I am going to include parents as the culprits, as well, because they don’t instill good study habits into their children, and thus contribute in a major way to their failure and to the eventual deterioration of our education system.

There is too much reliance on the use of devices to teach. A good teacher interacts with the students and keeps them engaged with the subject matter through eye contact, physical movements, and even the use of psychology. A teacher can clearly see when the students are lost and the subject matter is going over their heads, and then steers them back to pay closer attention through questions and comments, to clarify with more examples and to break a subject down into easier and simpler steps. A good teacher can focus not only on the class as a whole, but on individual students who may need a little more push than the rest. A teacher can actually sense, through verbal and non-verbal communications, when he or she is getting through to the students and when there is a need to change strategy. A teacher actually finds a successful way to impart knowledge to the students.

These devices have become a barrier to learning. Almost all of the homework is assigned using computers. Problems, specially math and science problems, are graded only on the right or wrong answer. There is no emphasis on “show your work”. It is important as to how you get your answer, and not just what the right answer is. Most students these days has access to apps that can take a picture of your problem and give you the final answer. As a matter of fact, you can search for any question on the internet, and you can find many different sources that give you the answer. There is absolutely no learning involved. I used to wonder why kids do so well on their homework assignments but fail miserably when taking their exams. That is the reason. They don’t learn anything. They only know how to cheat on the homework. The schools are now allowing students to retake the exams on these devices and students are now doing better on the exams as well.

I remember when a board used to be the most important teaching tool in a classroom. Now they us a computer hooked up to a projector, and the impact of doing anything is completely lost. Writing is small and incomprehensible. Teacher draws notes in a very unnatural way, and students lose interest in the whole process very quickly. Even something as fundamental as

commanding the class’s attention is gone because teacher is standing in a corner with lights dimmed, and students are free to misbehave. It’s not just that the students are not paying attention to the teacher. The teacher is not paying attention to the students.

One important aspect of today’s classrooms is a warmup session. Where students log into their Google Classroom and do a warmup exercise to get them started for the period. What I have seen is shameful. Usually, it is a ten-minute session. Most of the students spend quite a bit of time taking their computers out, starting them, and logging in. By the time they get started the ten minutes are already over. Some students have to move around because their computer is not charged, and they forgot their chargers at home. The teacher has a few spare chargers available for them to use and by the time they have settled down, the ten minutes are over.

Some students take the cake, when they forget to bring their computers altogether. They are then allowed to use their cellphones to log in. I don’t have to explain what happens when students are allowed access to their cellphones. The ten minutes are spent on answering messages and not doing the warmup. I was amazed that some warmup assignments were submitted days and weeks later, when they are supposed be done at the beginning of their class.

No one reads textbooks anymore. Textbooks have no meaning these days. There is no source of information other than patches of webpages that the search engines pop up on the screen.

There is no comprehensive approach to teaching a subject. Only snippets here and there, from which the students can find the answers to the worksheets or homework assignments. Some topics are built on what the students have learnt previously, but unfortunately, the information retained by the students is so little that they have no idea what to do when they move from simpler to more advanced topics.

Here is the real sad part. Schools don’t like to fail students because it looks bad on the school performance when it comes to allocating money. So, they find ways to let the students redo any exam, assignment, or project. Most classes these days emphasize working in groups, where answers are simply copied from one or two smart students and the rest are busy with their social media hangups. I have been shocked on many occasions, when students have a grade of F or D almost all through the semester, only to get a B or C when the final grades are assigned. They are failing their classes all the way through, but manage to pass them at the very end.

• DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various author’s articles on this Opinion piece or elsewhere online or in the newspaper where we have articles with the header “COLUMN/EDITORIAL & OPINION” do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints or official policies of the Publisher, Editor, Reporters or anybody else in the Staff of the Hemet and San Jacinto Chronicle Newspaper.

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