Unravelling secrets

  • Education
  • Sunday, 14 Jul 2013

Policies pertaining to education cannot be shrouded in secrecy, as there will come a time when they have to be explained and implemented.

I HAVE often thought about how the essence of certain words and their meanings evolve together with our own growing.

Words that meant something else to us in childhood, suddenly take on deeper, more profound and sometimes even dark, forbidding meanings when we grow older.

Take the word “secret” for instance. It is a word that not only invokes a feeling of mystery and exclusivity but serves to add importance to the otherwise unexceptional word which it is paired with.

This has sometimes been used to advantage in the marketing industry where consumers of items or services with the word “secret” attached to its label come away feeling that they have been somehow accorded a special privilege.

A secret may also be something that is known only to a few people, and the very fact that it cannot be divulged or that others do not have this access or this special position of “secret sharer” makes you feel important.

When we were younger, we whispered secrets into the ears of our best friends or our special clique and promised that come what may, we would never ever tell anyone else. But secrets like promises are quite often not kept, and things get whispered around and after some time it doesn’t seem to be a big deal as it was earlier.

Then there are other kinds of secrets that actually protect us. Facts our parents never told us when we were children because they may have felt that we were too young to handle that knowledge. There were secrets that had to remain so because revealing them would have caused more damage.

National secrets sometimes become a fortress that shields a population from becoming vulnerable to any form of external forces that have the potential to destroy.

Many times we do understand that we don’t have to know everything and in fact, acquiring information that we had no right to, either consciously or inadvertently, can become a burden that gets heavier with time.

Ignorance is bliss

At times ignorance is indeed bliss and excuses us from certain responsibilities.

We, teachers for instance, are not exactly fanatical about having to know everything that goes on in the formulation of certain educational policies but we are greatly concerned about the parts that have directly to do with our teaching.

What irks sometimes though are the times when some of our legitimate queries and concerns related to our teaching are met with glib comments or cryptic answers which are not answers at all, and in fact insult our intelligence.

At other times, we are bluntly told that the answers we seek are “private and confidential”. There is alo a definite sense of irony in the fact that teachers who are key players in the achievement of certain educational objectives are denied access to information related to these objectives.

The message that seems to be projected to us teachers from the ones who hold the information is that they cannot give answers to certain questions because they are “secrets”, although both sides share the same educational goals.

“We can’t tell you what you need to know in order to prepare your students for the public examinations.

“We can’t tell you what the grading requirements are because perhaps we ourselves aren’t sure. We can’t tell you where a certain policy is heading because the future is still a little hazy.

“We have something in mind and it isn’t quite clear yet, and even when it does become clear, it doesn’t mean we are going to let you know,” seem to be the type of responses we get from the authorities and those who have information.

Sometimes, the feeling that seems to come across is that our job is to follow directives and implement them and not to ask questions ... but to get it done.

It is at times like these when as a teacher you begin to wonder whether the information you seek regarding either the public examination grading systems, or text selection, is deliberately withheld from you, so that questions that are difficult to answer, will not be asked.

Doubts and disapproval

The possibility that the need for secrecy is related to the need to prevent public disapproval, or protest of some form, is also at the back of your mind.

There may even be a niggling doubt that the “secret-keepers” in the education service somehow regard teachers as not having sufficient capacity to deal with this information.

And so teachers occasionally go on with having to implement policies that they are uncertain about, and even less convinced about without having clear definitions and justifications.

It can be even a little bewildering and you are left wondering whether you share the same educational aspirations as education officers who do not teach in schools.

Are we on the same track, are we sharing the same educational goals and a common vision for the education of our children?

If we are all in this together, then it only makes sense that everyone is privy to information that is crucial in realising education goals. But has it become a situation where the ones who hold the “secrets” are also the ones in control?

In a domain as crucial as education, it is all the more important for the many different components of its system to grow together, be transparent and share information honestly with each other.

We need transparency not only in the way we reward or offer grades to our students, evaluate them but also in the other things like how curricula are formulated, how assessment targets are set, and how teachers’ performances are evaluated.

To be fair, there have been answers provided to some of the questions we ask which we may not have paid much attention to in the past.

But there are also times when the supposed answers we receive are hollow and rhetorical, despite their grandiloquence.

We wonder at times that in a service as vital as education, whe-ther information should be withheld from any of its departments.

We, among all other services, are the ones whose job it is to create a desire in our students to unravel all kinds of mysteries and secrets of the universe.

So, should we not be the ones who chief among all others, have complete transparency within our own system, even if it means that certain flaws or unpleasant “secrets” are revealed?

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