MANDEVILLE, Jamaica, April 7, 2021 - One of the policy priorities for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in Jamaica is “Bridging the Digital Divide.” This is its most recent policy priority created since the pandemic, albeit I have never seen, read, or heard of its objectives and implementation plan as a whole. Nonetheless, this has piqued my interest as I am in the education sector and have been experiencing growing concerns regarding the significance of self-directed learning in this new dispensation.
Perhaps a decade from now, someone reading this article may not have the knowledge or experience of the global pandemic called Covid-19. According to the World Health Organization, this virus started in China in December 2019 and spread throughout the world within weeks.
To date, millions have died, and millions have been treated for this flu-like virus that affects the respiratory system in the human body. Several vaccines have been developed and are being used to eradicate its spread. This pandemic has jolted the world into chaos, first with the economic “great pause” followed by the “K recovery” and in education, what I like to call “the permutation”.
In March 2020 when the Jamaican government led by Andrew Holness announced the measures to be undertaken by its citizens, it threw off the education system as we knew it. That is, the students and teachers were forced to advance their skills and competencies in rapid time to engage each other in the digital space. This change, as anyone would likely imagine, affected the vulnerable mostly but also those who had connectivity by way of a computer device and reliable internet.
In our Jamaican context, even with the new curriculum as articulated in the K-13 strategy, we are simply not equipped with the mindset and techniques for self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management, and most significantly, self-directed learning.
When Malcolm Knowles developed this concept for adult learning (andragogy), it postulated that human beings were able to learn about their own styles of learning to include, among other key tenets, the resources that they would require for learning as well as being able to evaluate their own learning outcomes.
Self-directed learning is about developing one’s own maturity in learning without much assistance. When a child is born, some amount of self-directed learning takes place before entering formal education. In the home, the child learns concepts of self through experimentation or trial and error. These are natural and accepted forms of being self-aware, practicing self-management, building and managing relationships, practicing social awareness, and overall, learning through experiences.
Depending on the parenting style practiced in the home, the child then develops codependency, which in many cases, alter his/her/their mindset to be independent learners. Unfortunately, a child who is developing in a “normal” way, which is ideal for this discussion, is thought to need teachers or instructors to guide his/her/their daily decision-making. How to learn, what to learn, and who to teach are pivotal questions that shapes the minds of children from a very early stage in their development.
I do not believe that this concept of self-directed learning is purely and ideally for adult learners! If we begin to purposefully foster the development of children in the home and classroom to practice self-directed or independent learning at a very early stage, many problems would be solved. Less structured content should be taught at K-5. That is, I believe more engagement in content that brings about desired outcomes through emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management) and the basic math, science and language skills, would reduce the crime problem.
At grades 5-11 we should introduce a much more formal curriculum that is directly mapped to the national development strategies of the country to include geopolitics. Geopolitics is necessarily based on the paradigm of digital citizenship - one is no longer limited to borders in advancing themselves through any career or field. At grades 12 onward, the learner is well apt to choose a career or multiple careers including entrepreneurship as a digital citizen.
The permutation occurring in the global space is a golden opportunity for us to rethink how we teach and what we teach. Humans have the capacity to develop their level of maturity at a rapid rate. Self-direction is not meant to be limited to adulthood.
If the concept is explored by the curriculum developers, and collaboration is effectively translated into the country’s development plan, then the Jamaica land we love will have a promising future.
Davia D. Ramgeet, Ed.D
Higher Education Leadership and Management