Our columnist is flooded with memories of her early teaching years when typewriters and bulky machines ruled the day before the e-era changed lives completely.
WE HAD been going through some old photographs of when we had first started out teaching and after reassuring ourselves that despite the wrinkles and added kilos, we still looked better than many of our male ex-colleagues who were by now pot-bellied, bald or both.
I turned to my friend Dilla and said, “Do you remember the rickety old typewriter at the back of the staff-room which we used to prepare test scripts those days?”
“The typewriter!” Dilla closed her eyes for a few seconds and let out a deep sigh.
“How could I forget? We used to fight over it all the time, especially on the day before our stencils were due for cyclostyling.”
Stencils, cyclostyle — it’s been decades since I had heard those words.
“Do people even use them anymore?” I asked Dilla.
“I swear,” said Dilla, “if I close my eyes long enough, I can even get the smell of the red correction fluid we had to use whenever we made mistakes on the stencils.”
“Pink, Dilla, bright pink, that was the colour it was. Good heavens Dilla, are we really that old?”
“The stencil pen,” Dilla went on, “do not forget the ubiquitous stencil pen which we used to sketch the diagrams with.”
“And the transparencies for the overhead projector (OHP). Remember how innovative and cool we seemed those days when we wheeled the bulky OHP in for our class lessons?”
“Ah, the pre-ICT (information and communications technology) days,” said Dilla, “before technology swept in and changed our teaching lives forever.
“Days when the closest thing to cell phones were the walkie-talkies that the sports secretaries in school brandished during cross country runs.
“The huge table-cloth sized student mark-sheets that we had to complete after every main examination.”
We were quiet for a few moments and then Dilla said, “but tell me really, would you rather do things the old way, stencil pens, OHP and all?”
I thought for a while and then said “no”.
While there was a certain nostalgic charm associated with teaching paraphernalia of yesteryears, there’s no denying that things are much more convenient now.
No more messy correction fluid blotches. No more huge mark-sheets.
The dawn of the information era, Internet connectivity, e-everything ... seems like all things remotely related to school, students, examinations, curriculum and so on, can be dealt with at the click of the mouse.
Really, when you think about it, teaching life should be so much easier now. With all this marvellous gadgetry we should be having more time to strategise, plan and carry out really effective lessons, and have more time to interact with our students.
But are we?
Despite all these “conveniences” that are supposed to enhance the teaching and learning experience in our schools, provide quality, top-notch education facilitated by efficient, inspired and knowledgeable teachers, all geared to produce generations of mature, creative and intelligent young adults, how far down the road have we really come?
Is the distance we have travelled proportionate to all the much lauded innovations in the system?
There is no dearth of programmes, strategic plans and proposals. Of that, one can be certain.
In fact, a new one seems to pop up every minute.
It almost seems as if the entire school agenda revolves around the implementation of these programmes, all of which have noble objectives to be sure.
Increasing language proficiency, improving examination grades, producing outstanding student performance, developing teachers professionally, enhancing the school image, better discipline and the list seems to go interminably on.
The blueprint and documentation are often most impressive and certainly worthy show-pieces during any school inspection.
While the motives and aspirations behind these school programmes may be honourable and hold great potential for achieving educational objectives, one issue that may have been overlooked by policy-makers and planners is that there may simply be too much of a good thing.
The buffet plates have been piled too high with all sorts of good food and one wonders now, how to deal with it.
All we may manage to do is take bite-size mouthfuls of each without actually enjoying the meal.
Directives that come from above may be the driving force behind school administrators having to implement so many different programmes all at one go.
This in the end, often leaves some kind of unfinished gaps which we fill haphazardly just to maintain the records. It is also, to prove that they have been implemented “successfully”.
So getting back to the “inconvenient” past, those of us who were teaching during the typewriter and stencil pen “dinosaur” age may appreciate the fact that although the school activities and programmes then were much less frequent compared to today, and had less sophisticated labels, they seemed to have possessed a quality of integrity and thoroughness which is not quite so common these days.
Time for teaching
The main thing is we had more time to do the things that mattered most in teaching, namely to teach, to educate, to guide and mentor.
The irony of the situation is that when these basic responsibilities which are part of the teacher’s job description are extracted and converted to stiff formalised programmes, a kind of artificiality sets in which often strips some of the essence of the teaching, learning experience and the joy.
“I think you’re right,” said Dilla. “We can’t really go back … but no harm talking about it, is there?
“Remember the time the two of us stood at the wrong checkpoint during our cross country run and wondered why no runners passed us?”
“It was in the middle of the paddy field,” I said “and all the villagers turned out to see what we were doing standing there in the afternoon.
“The way I remember it, it was all your fault. You read the map wrongly even though I kept telling you ….”
“Yes, yes, blame it all on me,” said Dilla.
“Remember, I’m the one who rescued you from the buffalo in case you forgot … and by the way where’s the stencil pen I lent you in 1985? You never returned it!”