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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

What will become of me?

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This is a question I often asked myself as I grew up. I felt that I had no skills at all, was never number one at anything and everyone else was better than I. I wish that someone would have encouraged me and seen my strengths. Well, I was rather good at playing the piano, but so many girls did that when I was a kid, so it was nothing special about me.This is a question I often asked myself as I grew up. I felt that I had no skills at all, was never number one at anything and everyone else was better than I.

I wish that someone would have encouraged me and seen my strengths. Well, I was rather good at playing the piano, but so many girls did that when I was a kid, so it was nothing special about me.As an adult, I can see that what actually was special about me is that I never quit playing the piano and now it is one of my “working tools.”  As a music teacher in a school in the middle of Sweden, I play the piano every day when I sing together with my pupils. So, many young girls began to take piano lessons but when they grew older and realised that boys were much more interesting than a piano, they quit playing.

The piano stands there in a corner of the living room as a reminder of broken ambitions. When I was a kid, a piano was an investment, it was expensive to buy. But now you can even get one for free here. For me, this is crazy but times has changed.  As a young adult, I began to study music, and all in all, I have been studying that for seven years and I have two musical professions. When I look back at my younger years I’m amazed that I managed to go through all those years of education without one word of encouragement from anyone. I was never good enough, always compared with others and I felt like a complete idiot so many times.

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It felt like everyone else was in control over his or her life and I was the only one who didn’t know exactly in which direction I should go.When I look back, as a mature woman, I can see that everyone else was as uncertain as I was.  Some were only better at hiding their flaws but everyone had them. The education system was based on comparing pupils with each other and the skills that counted were those which were easy to measure. Math was always a struggle for me…. or was it? I wasn’t bad at math, not brilliant either, but I was the one who had trouble learning the formulas because it was hard for me to just accept them as they were.

I have always been the one questioning things and needed to see what use I had of something before I could accept it completely.Mathematics is based on logic, rules and formulas – not my forté. I don’t mean that I lack logical thinking, but I’m an anarchist who doesn’t accept rules unless I understand what I needed to use them for. I am an intellectual but I’m also very practical. I have been living on a farm for most of my life and I have learned to do so many things and I’m proud of that. This means that I’m always able to get some kind of job wherever I end up in the world.As a teacher, it is my obligation to study my pupils to see how I could help them to improve.

It’s not easy because I’m responsible for 539 pupils, so I have, maybe a minute, for each pupil per lesson. Obviously, it is impossible to get to know each kid deeply but I must try. What I can do is to make the pupils feel that they have confidence in me and that they can speak freely about their thoughts and also troubles. I try to inspire my pupils to think individually, to find knowledge on their own instead of listening to me all the time and making notes.  There is a saying: “What you learn with your body stays in your mind.

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“This means if pupils use different ways of learning, the knowledge will stay within them for a while – until they have a test and then it disappears!How many of us haven’t been staying up late into the night before a test, trying to bang all the facts in our heads and after the test we become completely exhausted and forget everything? This is a common method but does it lead us anywhere?The most useful knowledge is the knowledge we remember – sounds logical, don’t you think?  Have you ever thought about it like that? The most useful knowledge is the knowledge we remember.

So what about the things we don’t remember, are they useless?  No, of course not, but we might get very frustrated when we don’t understand what use we have for them and even worse – if we fail the exam.I have failed exams and I have never been so ashamed. I felt like the biggest idiot on earth and I thought that I was alone with the failure. I was too ashamed to speak to anyone about it until now. Now I know that I wasn’t alone.  The worst thing about failing an exam is, first the teacher’s reaction and then your parents’.

If they have sacrificed a lot to make it possible for you to study, this will make the situation unbearable.  Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978 ) was a famous social anthropologist from USA.She studied the roles between the genders and that these were culturally given instead of biologically. This is one of Margaret Mead’s well known quotes: “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognise the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”The school has been, and still is, very much focusing on two ways of learning, two intelligences:  ‘the verbal/linguistic intelligence and the logical/mathematical intelligence’.

We have actually six more intelligences and if we use them too we increase the chances of success. We are individuals and all of us have different strengths. We need to turn the system around and instead of focusing on our shortcomings and weaknesses we should focus on our strengths.Howard Gardner, PhD from Harvard University, USA, is the author of many books and articles. One of his books that has influenced me a lot, is Frames of Mind in which he discusses multiple intelligences. From the beginning, these intelligences were seven but after more research, Professor Gardner found that we actually have eight intelligences.  When you think of an intelligent person, you might think of someone who is extremely good at mathematics and who can solve the most complicated equations.

If that is the only category then I’m as dumb as a stone!When I think back on all the years at school the only thing I remember is how stupid I felt all the time, especially considering mathematics. The math teacher we had at secondary school was bright but he was not a good teacher. I know that now. But then, I always accused myself of being a complete idiot who didn’t understand the equations and other stuff that I have forgotten now.If you are an expert in one area that doesn’t automatically make you a good teacher.

Often, these experts use very advanced language and are not able to “translate” it so that common people will understand. Some of these experts don’t even want to explain things in an easier way; for them it is a matter of prestige.When we speak about intelligent people, we often refer to Albert Einstein who was a mathematical genius and was extremely intelligent. He used to say that: “If you are not able to explain it easily enough you haven’t understood it fully.” Being very intelligent and very skilled in one area is good but…

You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to be able to kill a ram at Tobaski. Instead, you must have good practical skills to know how to kill the ram without causing it too much suffering.That is what you learn in the school of life.The educational system in The Gambia needs to change in a way that will suit the Gambian circumstances. The British system that has been operating in the schools in The Gambia for so long was made for the circumstances in Great Britain – not the Gambia. The education systems in the Western world have evolved for more than a century but we can’t afford to wait for that long for The Gambia to catch up.

This is why we need to consider what our needs are and how can we achieve them. We must study research and learn from others. We can’t rely only on our politicians who have got their education in The Gambia only.I will tell you a little about the eight intelligences we have, according to Professor Howard Gardner, and how to relate to them. I believe that if we build the education system in The Gambia on the eight intelligences we would create new generations who are able to think independently, are able to make decisions on their own. These generations will be skilled in the areas where they have their strengths and will become useful members of the society.

Research data has revealed the following: 1 Students develop increased responsibility, self-direction and independence2 Discipline problems were significantly reduced3 All students developed and applied new skills4 Cooperative learning skills improved in all students5 Academic achievement improved.Success depends upon the active involvement of at least four factors: Assessment, Curriculum, Teacher education and Community participation.Education works effectively only when responsibility is assumed over the long run so that is why we must set a good foundation for a new system in The Gambia and follow it through.At last, our eight intelligences, of which every person has, but some are stronger than others.  We must focus on our strengths instead of our shortcomings.1. Linguistic intelligence – You are good with words.

Learn new languages easily, read, write, memorise texts. Professions: Journalist, lawyer, editor.2. Logical or mathematical intelligence – Good at mathematics and logical systems. Professions: Webmaster, accountant.3. Musical intelligence – Understand and create music. Professions: Musician, dancer, composer.4. Spatial intelligence – The ability to “think in pictures”.  Professions: Artist, architect, web designer.5. Naturalist intelligence – Ability to recognise and classify plants, minerals and animals. Professions: garden worker, farmer, biologist6. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence – The ability to use one’s body in a skilled way. Professions: Athlete, actor, crafts men.7. Interpersonal intelligence – Ability to perceive and understand other individuals. Professions: Religious leader, police, politician, waiter, hotel manager.8. Intrapersonal intelligence – Understanding one’s own emotions. Professions: Psychologist, writer, social worker, artist.
As you can see, all of us are skilled – only in different ways. So once again, focus on your strengths and not your shortcomings.

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