Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 27th 2014 Contents B7
Thursday, March 27, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
In the early 80s, I returned from study-
ing abroad eager to teach in our school
system---especially the junior/senior com-
prehensives. Within four years at Senior
Comprehensive, I had reached my level of
tolerance for injustice.
Some of the injustices I saw were minor,
such as the sudden clampdown on footwear
with any sign of colour---stripes, logos.
The cost to the students, not in new shoes
but in disruption to their learning, was dis-
missed. This is indicative of the lack of
Alta and the Finland model
Today, we begin a short series from
Alta about the injustices in the
education system. Alta founder and CEO
PAULA LUCIE-SMITH looks at the Finnish
approach to education, which makes it
one of the most progressive in the world.
After 20 years in adult literacy, the consistent message that
comes from adults who don't read is that they feel left out, feel
that they are always missing out on something that everybody
else knows. This is dangerous since social harmony relies upon
all people feeling included, feeling part of society not outside it.
Are there similarities between
Alta and Finland?
• The culture of co-operation
• Focus on teacher training and
• Teacher teams develop and
continually update the curriculum
• No tests
Become a part of Alta.
Volunteer, donate, spread the
word. Alta volunteers are unpaid.
Call 624-ALTA (2582) or e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on
Facebook: Alta Trinidad.
respect for students that pervades our
There was one injustice that I came
into contact with day after day which
changed the course of my life. Daily
I saw students with poor literacy skills
required to read textbooks, copy from
the board, and write assignments and
To me, this is the greatest injustice
in our education---graduating students
into a print-based world without
being able to read, having spent more
than a decade in school.
Today, we live in an age of infor-
mation and that information is writ-
ten. A phone call has become a text;
your social life is on Facebook; to
access almost everything, you fill out
a form. Readers rule the 21st century.
After 20 years in adult literacy, the
consistent message that comes from
adults who don t read is that they feel
left out, feel that they are always miss-
ing out on something that everybody
else knows. This is dangerous since
social harmony relies upon all people
feeling included, feeling part of society
not outside it.
I invite readers to consider the
question of justice by comparing these
three: Alta, the internationally-
acclaimed education system of Finland
and our school system.
I was attracted to adult literacy hav-
ing become aware of the issue and
recognising that schools were not
open to change. It offered something
unique in education---no curriculum,
no books, no structures, no guidelines,
no policy, no "old" teachers.
Quite simply when I started in
1990, there was no adult literacy edu-
cation in T&T. Statistics said we had
97 per cent literacy. It s always easier
to build a new house than fix the
crumbling old one.
Adult learners have many demands
on their time. If a literacy class does
not impact on their everyday lives,
they won t come back. The tutor must
provide meaningful education.
Alta makes a commitment to on-
going training to create high calibre
tutors. Creating an environment of
mutual respect and nurturing of the
individual spirit was just as important.
Alta s 8:1 student-tutor ratio allows
the tutor to work directly with indi-
viduals or pairs of students.
The Alta tutor spends 80 per cent
or more of class time moving around
the room to give help where needed,
vigilant to individual difficulty and
offering help to those who would not
venture to ask for it.
We have built a culture of co-oper-
ative teaching and learning. We use
continuous assessment to determine
student progress through the levels.
In the early 1970s when Finland
had an underperforming education
system they took education out of
politics. They embarked on a long-
term policy to develop a professional
body of educators.
All teachers were trained to master s
level and then, they turned over the
decisions to the teachers. Though not
the highest paid profession, teaching
has become the most highly esteemed.
Only one out of every ten people who
apply will be accepted.
Finnish schools have no tests and
don t assign homework. Children are
not streamed into ability groupings
but taught in the same classrooms,
with lots of special teacher help avail-
able so no child is left behind.
Control over policies was shifted
to town councils. The national cur-
riculum was distilled into broad guide-
lines. Individual schools have cur-
riculum autonomy; individual teachers
have classroom autonomy. The
inspectorate closed its doors in the
early 90s, turning accountability and
inspection over to teachers and prin-
Finland is rated among the highest
in the world in innovation, entrepre-
neurship and creativity.
NEXT WEEK we'll look at what
obtains at schools in T&T.
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