Tailor-made curriculum to address students' insecurity and distress

Tuition, quality of education, choice of school/university and institutional policies (e.g. funding/resources, pedagogy – online & blended instruction) are some of the education issues often discussed in most European countries as the school year starts in September. The beginning of the school year can be exciting or worrying depending on where you live and your individual situation: In Greece, for example, some university students have dropped out of their studies due to lack of adequate finance. In Spain, families who never passed on used school bags and supplies to other siblings have done it this year. In Germany, however, parents enthusiastically file at the checkouts with trolleys filled with school paraphernalia and items to help their children have a good academic year.

Anywhere in the world, the education playing field is not level and students are not homogenous. About 2% of the student population are gifted and talented, about 5% of them are from high-income families; and there are bipolar, autistic, slightly impaired and emotionally fragile among them. With our globalised world, it’s fairly common to find more than one religion, culture and language in every classroom. With the divorce rate of 40-50% and advent of other kinds of family arrangement (single parents, same-sex couples, restructured families), children face different challenges at school. There are many happy families but there are also those whose routine includes: couples disputing on subjects that range from money to infidelity, children experiencing abuse and intolerance, etc. As well, due to the financial crises and current volatile economic condition, many parents have lost their jobs, others may have the same fate soon, while some have been forced to move to other places and transferred their children to a new school. These circumstances impact on the children’s behaviour and their capacity to learn and perform at school.

Children don’t become adults in one day; children and adults don’t become deviants and killers overnight. The role of family and parents in understanding crime and delinquency is well documented and widely discussed. However, that of the school community is hidden behind the walls of family breakdown (“pass the buck”), mental illness, drugs, lack of positive role models, bullying that leads to revenge and detachment from our society.

The killing of 12 students and 1 teacher by 2 senior students at Columbine High School in 1999 made headlines worldwide, sparked debates and led to relevant policies. Nevertheless, more crimes of this nature have been committed since. Last year, a political extremist murdered 77 young members of Norway’s Labour Party. In April this year, a Korean-born American shot to death 7 people at Oikos University, his former college. Similar crimes were committed in France, Israel and Russia. Why are there more crimes involving students, and in school premises, in nations with a developed or emerging economy than those in developing and underdeveloped (the so called ‘Third World’) countries?

For me, the issues are institutional indifference and socio-economic polarization, and not sanity or insanity of the perpetrators and State’s gun or no gun policy - which are often cited. Is it the responsibility of educational institutions to deal with distress and insecurity among students and instill civility and basic humanness? Children can be tactless and sometimes more brutal than adults because of their innocence and frankness. Therefore, they need guidance to help them avoid offending or driving their fellow students to delinquency and deviance.

Some schools already have a curriculum that includes ethics and values. However, this is a ready-made one that doesn’t meet the needs of individual student, class and school. Some teachers already teach social justice and peace, but is their teaching geared towards passing the test or ensuring that students become conscientious citizens? Are students encouraged to extend a warm welcome or a helping hand to their new classmates regardless of the latter’s weirdness or difference? Should students be reminded that a family or economic situation may change hence they ought to avoid provocative comments and questions, e.g. “Are you that poor not to eat at the canteen? Your Dad has been unemployed for a long time, is he going to get a job soon?”

State education priorities should include tailor-made services that best support students in distress, insecurity and difficulty, e.g. engaging multilingual and multicultural guidance counsellors. How do we recognise students who are distressed due to separation or divorce? What shall we do with students who demonstrate anti-social behaviours, such as reclusiveness and aggressiveness? The school is a mini society, so why can’t we be less academic and more pragmatic by teaching and exposing children to values, principles, philosophies and experiences that will help them acquire knowledge and skills to live harmoniously with others and be conscientious world citizens. Since teachers come in different shapes, sizes and colours, the question then is how do we train teachers to become effective in such task and in dealing with distressed and insecure students?

… more ... roladesocietalblog.com

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