Global Miseducation: Teaching The Global Judges Judging The Local Teachers

MANILA: From where I sit, it was a Global Misteach: With Palestinian Grade 2 teacher Hanan al-Hroub winning the Global Teacher Prize of $1 Million for 2016 in Dubai, I know that the judges needed education on teaching. They picked the wrong person! The sponsor of the prize, UK-based Varkey Foundation, should learn from this expensive teaching moment.

Ms Hanan is a teacher at Samiha Khalil Secondary School, a government school in the municipality of Ramallah in the Central West Bank some 10 km north of Jerusalem; Ramallah serves as the de facto administrative capital of the Palestinian National Authority (Wikipedia). I salute teachers, but not always the judges of teachers.

But first, my credentials. I studied to be a teacher. I am a graduate of the top agriculture school in the Philippines, the University of the Philippines' College of Agriculture, which has since given birth to the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UP Los Baños). My degree is a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, graduating from UP Los Baños in 1965. I majored in Ag Ed. I passed the very first Teachers Exam in the Philippines in 1964, yes, a year before my graduation, with a grade of 80.6%, which is Above Average. There were of course no Civil Service Reviewers for teachers then. I graduated with a weighted average of 2.36 (where 1.00 is Excellent and 5 is Failed), which is still remarkable since I failed in several subjects and each failed subject is credited a 5 that goes into the computation. I learned to teach the hard way.

Now, the basics of teaching. Teacher or not, which of these statements do you think is not true?

(1)   Ms Hanan is a terrific teacher.
(2)   The best way to learn is to do.
(3)   You have to challenge the learners mentally.
(4)   Children learn best in a safe, peaceful, comfortable place.
(5)   The whole world is a refugee camp.

True: #1 to #4. Not true: The whole world is a refugee camp. If that is not true, then why do you portray as global what is local? Why do you say that successful teaching of children in a war zone applies to all children under all circumstances – why give a global prize to a local success story? Ms Hanan's methods, no matter how awesome, cannot work in millions of classrooms all over the world where the children are not traumatized by violence. And these children are a majority. Giving a local method the global value that it does not deserve is intellectual dishonesty, if not foolhardiness.

I teacher can give you 7 reasons  Ms Hanan winning the Global Teacher Prize for 2016 is teaching the wrong values. We can look at this in several ways, from the points of view of:

(1)      Science – Replicability is a hallmark of a scientific thesis or assertion. It doesn't matter what are these or how wonderful they are, Ms Hanan's methods cannot be replicated in classrooms outside of war zones, and there are millions of them around the world. Her award gives the overwhelming majority a common illegitimate position.

(2)      Philosophy – Holism says the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The awarding of the Global Teacher's Prize to Ms Hanan is teaching holism the wrong way, saying that the part is equal to the whole, that teaching a classroom in a limited war zone is the same as teaching a classroom in an unlimited peace zone. Ms Hanan herself says, “Being a child in a refugee camp is different from being a child anywhere else in the world,” so why do you consider global what is only local?

(3)      Metaphor – Family as metaphor is not productive in learning in the classroom. "From the very beginning," says Ms Hanan, "I make sure that the students understand that in that classroom we are a family – we belong to each other." That's a poor metaphor, as when the children are out of the classroom, where will they look for family outside of their homes?

(4)      Critical thinking – Reason tells us that what Ms Hanan has accomplished with the children is not growing up but coping, managing to release a little of the creativity of children in playing meaningful games. Coping is necessary, but that's all. The war is too cruel a reality for the children to blossom intellectually.

(5)      Education – Teaching is training how to learn. If you teach children how to make toys from everyday household materials, that's what they are going to learn, making toys. Her approach centers on "Play and Learn." Ms Hanan says, “By playing these games with my students, I try to decrease the effect of violence among them, particularly those who themselves exhibit violent behavior. I try to change these behaviors – which often contribute to a lack of participation and focus – and replace them with confidence, dialogue and mutual respect.” Playing games is nice, but the games teach only community and do not teach how to learn.

(6)      Context – Atmosphere is vital in teaching. But not to the judges of this global prize, who reason thus: Content is all-important, context is nothing. These judges are saying that children in a classroom in an area of violence will learn the same way as children in an area of peace!

(7)      Method – Dialogue is Ms Hanan's main method in teaching the children. "Her efforts have had a noticeable impact; today, her approach is widely replicated by her colleagues and has led to a decline in violent behavior in schools where it is applied." That may well be the case, but a decline in violent behavior is hardly a measure of learning. Reducing violent behavior is necessary, but it does not guarantee the learning process itself.

The image above, which I copied from the Internet as is, has the word Global cut more than halfway down – inadvertently, it reflects the point I'm trying to make here: The recipient of the award is not a global teacher.

That is not the fault of Ms Hanan, but a misteach is a misteach, and a million dollars is too good a prize to ignore. The Global Teacher Prize is open to all. But no, I'm not personally after the prize – after all, I am 76 and not teaching any more.

Ms Hanan says she is going to use the million-dollar award to create scholarships for students who want to go into teaching. Why? She says, “The only thing that can change the future is education.” Following the logic of that, miseducation is regrettable. So, next year, Varkey Foundation judges, please let us not repeat the Global Teacher Prize Miseducation, globalizing what is local.

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