Education – Success and Social Justice

RewirEd Talks and the Group Discussion

As a volunteer for RewirEd Talks through Dubai Cares, I held a group discussion on education lasting about 75 minutes with 2 students (one from India and one in the UAE) and 2 educators (of the same demographic). The questions sought to understand their opinions on education, inclusion, accessibility, resilience, digitalization, and included personal experiences and expectations from each other as well.

The speakers

1) Amna Tasneem – High school student from Jharkhand in India
2) Mansi Sharma – Fellow at Teach For India
3) Dr. Mehvash Ali – Director of Academic Support Center and First-Year Experience at the American University of Sharjah and Member of the Board of Directors for the Global Community for Academic Advising
4) Sivananda – High School Student in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.

You can view the entire talk on YouTube. This post is not a transcript of the talk and does not include every point that was made during the discussion.

The true purpose and role of education?

Amna believes that education is “not a learning of facts but the training of the mind.” All speakers agree that education should be holistic development of students that encompasses personal and professional aspects. Subsequently, this does not translate into an overload of information. Dr. Mehvash and Mansi highlight that information isn’t as important as it is to know the right one to take and putting it to good applicable uses.

In a fast paced world with constant innovation, what is learned during one course can be redundant by the time the person is looking for a job. Hence, education should also focus on updating itself and teaching skills that don’t expire such as critical thinking, collaboration, and innovation, as highlighted by Dr. Mehvash. Sivananda also added that education is also about values, eradicating social evils, combatting biases and being able to empathize.

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How do we ensure that digital learning leaves no student behind?

Digitally

The COVID-19 induced pandemic has forced schools and universities to go online. For many students who learn better in person and are not the best at managing their distractions, this has been a great challenge. In many other ways, educators as well as students have also felt challenged because of having to adapt.

Sivananda talks about how some students can feel left behind because of the challenge of distractions and learning styles. Dr. Mehvash highlights the lack of ownership on part of some students citing that they make up two minutes before class, have no proper workspace, nor put in the effort to make the most of the situation even if online.

To make the most of your learning, time, and productivity, check out this other post on The Vigilant Mind: Beating the Illusions of Competence in Learning and Learning Effectively.

Because of education going online with such a surprise, Amna talks about a few numbers a teacher of hers gave her. She talks about how online learning cause the 5% top scorers to continue doing well, make no impact on the bottom 5% who did not care as they will continue to not care, while the greatest burden and difficulty will fall on the remaining vast majority. Even when people have access to technology, the sudden shift will expand gaps within this student group.

Across Economic Classes

Considering that this post is going up on the World Social Justice Day, it would be bizarre to not discuss the socioeconomic aspect of education and digitalization. Mansi, being a fellow for Teach for India and dealing with underprivileged students, has first hand experience of how the pandemic has negatively impacted the education of those classes. The divide was already existing, but the pandemic has made it worse, she says. Some of the solutions they’ve been applying is to prepare asynchronous packages with videos, notes, personalized lessons, and physical classes in very small groups and peer-education.

What else do you think can be done to help bring education to the classes that can barely afford a roof on their head let alone technology?

Amna talks about how a large majority of the world is not connected to the internet, electricity, or has access to devices. She cites the World Bank in reporting that 50% of the world has access to internet. But there is massive disparity in how this % is distributed.

“Countries like the UAE have about 95% internet penetration while nations like Angola and Somalia have 14% and 2% internet penetration respectively. Lower secondary school completion in those countries is just 21% and 8% respectively.” Evidently, digital learning is not going to reach to a massive proportion of the world. Even within developed countries reporting high coverage, digital education will still put communities in remote and other backward areas at a disadvantage.

Accessibility goes beyond economics. In a country like India, frequent government ordered internet blockages also pose a challenge to education especially in the pandemic where everything is online.

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Some Suggested Changes in Education Proposed by the Speakers

  1. Assessment patterns. Putting high weightage on final examinations is not a reflection of one’s skills and thinking level.
  2. Education should be more holistic and move beyond the textbook and classroom.
  3. Teaching should adapt to different learning styles as best as it can.

What are some of the changes that you want to see in the overall or your national education system?

I asked the students and educators what they expect from each other, here’s what they had to say

Student’s expectations

  1. Teachers should teach beyond the textbook.
  2. Teaching style should inspire curiosity and aim for holistic development. “If we were happy with the knowledge that existed and did not explore, we would never have exited the caves or raised skyscrapers”, says Amna.
  3. Teachers should have a bond stronger than a textbook with their students and prepare them for the real world.
  4. In the online field, teachers should not force students to turn their cameras on without inquiring if a valid reason exists.
  5. There should be no space for gender bias.
  6. Educators should not jump to conclusions if a student is unable to participate or answer but try to inquire and empathize.
  7. Educators should not publicly humiliate students.
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Teacher’s expectations

  1. Students should work on their mindset and develop a one of growth that is not fixed so that they may continuously expand their horizons. Mansi reported that when she asked multiple students about their thoughts, a common problem with most was their mindset was limiting.
  2. Academics is not everything, as students also say, but many need to take the effort to find activities beyond academics to indulge in. I wouldn’t have come across Dr. Mehvash in just my first few weeks of university had I not been exploring many different events and opportunities in it.
  3. Students should define meaningful success concepts for themselves – it’s not always money or dreams. Students should work with passion to achieve their definition of success.
  4. Students AND educators should find ways to grow and find ways to expand their teaching styles, engaging students and much more.

On this World Social Justice Day, what other parts of education do you think need to be retouched? What other parts in this field, beyond academics do you think should be retouched (think a little more about scholarships and internships)?

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