Thursday, 19 January 2012

Andreas Guibeb - Experimenting with education in Namibia

Andreas Guibeb
The poor outcome of the matric results of the past year takes me back down memory lane when I had the good fortune to serve as assistant teacher (hulp onderwyser) for a Grade9 class at Ella Du Plessis for a brief period.

I soon realized the huge gap in performances between the top and lowest performing students, especially those who commuted daily from Katatura to attend school in Khomasdal in the hope of a better future. I refused to accept that some kids were stupid whilst others were clever. My challenge was to proof that theory by narrowing that gap. But how...?

Not prejudiced by the dogma of formal teacher training I experimented a lot and tested the tolerance limits of the school principal by abolishing the system of giving individual test marks and replacing it with a test mark for each student equal to the class average test mark for the subject. So every pupil in the class had either a good or horrible test mark for each subject. My point was that the success of everyone in the class was and should be our collective concern. We will only achieve that objective if we all start sharing good studying and learning strategies with everyone and increase the class average by helping the poor performers to up their contribution to the average class performances. I said let's all fake it till we make it and achieve the highest possible average class result, which means that everybody is doing well individually.

I therefore paired pupils to do homework and prepare for tests and taking particular care to pair top performers with under performers. I did this intuitively and without any knowledge of "positive deviancy theory" developed years later by Harvard Professor Jerry and Monique Sternin. With hindsight it reasures me that there was sense to the experiments of the scientist gone mad in the Ella du Plessis School laboratory.

This initiative was however very disturbing (understatement) to the school principal, school administration, the top performers and their parents in the class. The underlying spirit of: "We are in this together and we win when everyone wins" that I was trying to share, militated against the acquired wisdom pervasive in all aspects of our life of: "Each one for him/herself and God help us all". 

So I convened a meeting of parents, the school principle, students and myself where I explained that if the top performers and poor performers studied together both will win. When both win everyone wins. The top performers would gain lifelong friends and the poor performers gained a window into the thinking and study methods of top performers. The poor performers would gain self-esteem they lacked before when they see improved results. Once successful, they will dislike failure forever.

I am greatful to the school principal, parents and pupils for having allowed me to continue that risky experiment, but the rest is history as they say. 
Though I spend only a few months with the class all of them passed matric and gained access to university long after I left the school. The empowering lesson. If allowed, challenged and supported by all stakeholders the learners themselves will come up with more resourcefull and efficient solutions to the most chalenging situations. Because they come up with the solution themselves, it sets them on a lifelong course of success.

I am gratefull to the star pupils of my class at Ella du Plessis who took the exercise to heart and help under performers acquire better study habits and thus raised the test average for all. 

As Shakespeare says,"when the tide rises all boats are lifted". No top performer became worse because of helping others but all under performers became star pupils and realized their full potential. This is literally and figuratively true in all fields of life as today proven by the "positive deviancy theory".