Criticizing for a Purpose – Constructive Criticism

It is not so shocking to see headlines that read – “[U.S.] Math teachers barely ahead of students” from an Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) newsreel or [Nigeria] “259 teachers score zero in Pry 4 exams” from Nigerian news reels. Neither is it surprising to find T.V. shows like “Are You Smarter than A 3rd Grader?” in the United States.

Educators seek to educate. The press seeks to sell papers. Every organization has a purpose. As long as they exist, organizations will provide different levels of satisfaction to different audiences given the level of investment by the necessary parties in the organization among many other factors. Every institution is beleaguered with its own set of problems. The difference being the intensity of those problems and the capability of those involved to find real and sustainable ways to resolve and improve some of the problem areas.

The education sector in most countries, including Nigeria, is typically under-funded or receives less funds and attention than it should, given that it is entrusted with producing those who will serve the nation in so many, if not most other industries. The level of funding and attention paid to education in (it is safe to say) all countries lies on a continuum. The education sector reflects the society within which it exists.

As an educator who received her career training in the United States and who has served in various positions including classroom teacher, curriculum writer and teacher trainer in the United States, I can confidently report that teacher knowledge of subject matter and quality of teacher delivery of instruction is not and I doubt, ever will be even across board. Can it be improved? Yes. Just as it can be improved in the United States, it can be improved in Nigeria. The United States did not put certain safe guards in place because everything was perfect.

While it is good to criticize and to compare institutions and performance, it is most productive when we, especially those of us who have benefited from education in more stable societies or institutions rated and regarded highly in Nigeria at given points in time, keep our focus on how things can be improved in the Nigerian context rather than on launching an extensive non productive negative discussion/arguments that ultimately turn into personal attacks, name calling and the likes.

Criticism should be for the purpose of improvement. If we cannot give suggestions as to how something can be improved, it is more beneficial to help identify the problem and to state that you do not have any ideas as to how it can be resolved at this time. Pounding on and denigrating everything Nigerian does nothing to improve the situation, except perhaps it succeeds in demoralizing those who are struggling to make things better.

When we are respectful and not overly emotional in acknowledging challenges in Nigeria, we are able to apply the same respect and logical thinking to many other situations. How we communicate and express ourselves is a model for our younger generation and it speaks a lot about who we are.

Further more, I recommend reading the ASCD article on U.S. math teachers. The article is focused on the problem. The article states the problem, why it exists, and suggests what needs to done about it. The most powerful statement to me was: “We cannot meet our goals for increasing student achievement unless and until we focus on improving teaching quality and the effectiveness of teachers in front of the classroom,”

Written by
Enitan Doherty-Mason
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