Stop blaming teachers for poor student performance

A teacher is expected to plan for lessons, impart knowledge using various instructional techniques, and evaluate learning. Net photo.

Out of love for the truth and from a desire to elucidate it, I intend to correct a fallacy engrained in the minds of reactive stakeholders in our education system. Whenever students’ results are released, we are quick to acknowledge high-fliers and with the same zest, blame teachers whose students did not perform. This line of attack is misleadingly comforting to administrators and parents who hold themselves aloof from responsibility, and looking at it from a distance, judge with superb severity. Because educational quality is being measured by such a limiting yardstick, they are apt to be in error.

In all honesty, it is a teachers’ responsibility to ensure that authentic learning faithfully takes place. Daily, a teacher is expected to plan for the lessons, impart knowledge using various instructional techniques, evaluate learning and use data from the formative and summative assessments to construct further instructions and inform curriculum. Practically, a student spends most of his/her time with the teacher. It logically follows that a student’s performance has a direct link to what a teacher did or did not do. Even then, what can a teacher do with 50 plus students and 37 periods per week in a school with no textbooks or any other support resources? You must be completely out of your mind to judge Kigali Parents Primary School with the same lenses as a village school whose toilet is a bush and the library is a mango tree that ceases to exist during the rainy season!

That being said, I find it disgracefully unfair to judge a teacher’s worth from a three hour exam that a student sits at the end of three or six years of duteous teaching. The substantial size of the content domain that a national exam represents poses genuine difficulties even for the developers of such exams because if a test actually covered all the knowledge and skills in the domain, it would be far too long. While such exams create hard data that can show teachers where students need to improve their performance, they tend to measure information, aptitudes and skills that aren’t really indicative of a student’s understanding. While a learner needs a base of pure knowledge to understand a topic, focusing solely on that knowledge isn’t intellectually healthy in the long term.

Secondly, it is not hard to prove by an assembly of facts that a lot of factors determine the results in spite of the teaching. The students’ physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing during the exam are critical. In fact, a study conducted by Belinda L. Needman (2004) on Academic Failure in Secondary School: The Inter-Related Role of Health Problems and Educational Context revealed that emotional distress leads to course failure at 66 per cent. What this implies is that majority of the students in the study confessed that they were more likely to miss school, to have trouble concentrating on schoolwork, and to feel disconnected from adults in school whenever they were emotionally stressed; this configuration of factors disrupted their school performance. Given the struggles adolescents must deal with, you will accept the commonality of this spectacle.

Do not get me wrong; the teaching of a nation’s children is far too important to be left unmonitored. But to evaluate educational quality by using one assessment instrument and heap all responsibility of passing it on the hands of a teacher is a subversion of good sense. There should be equal responsibility in the stakes. Parents should motivate and encourage their children just like administrators should provide needed resources and a conducive environment for learning. We must desist from the absurd arrogance and desire to pass on blame. Teachers can only do much.

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