The corner-stone of school reform.

So many ideas have been written for years,and maybe for centuries on how to improve and develop education.Many educational theorists and psychologists have spoken about how  schools can meet students’ needs and requirements.Many others have spoken about materials,curriculum and methods.

The motivational theory continues to influence the eduactional sphere,and it keeps on being quoted whenever we want to speak about the relation between students and school.

I am greatly impressed by Maslow’s hirarchy of needs, and I think that it is absolutely the theory that sums up the whole issue of how to motivate students,and,therefore,how to make school better cater for the needs of those who attend it.

In my country,as in many other countries of the world,millions of dollars are spent every year on educational reforms.But,education continues to be the most problematic sector for world governments.And despite the millions of dollars that are spent on making it better,students still continue to lose interest  in attending classes,and the rates of school drop outs continues to raise year after year.

I am not sure if the educational policy makers are aware of Maslow ‘s hirarchy of needs and other educational theories!Probably,as it seems in our daily reality,they are not.

It is plain clear that the people who plan and implement educational theories jump into the higher levels of Maslow’s hirarchy.They have issued many documents and educational circulars about the standards that every student has to meet at the different levels of his/her school life.They have also spent a lot of money on changing the curriculum and printing new text-books….All this is adressing Maslow’s “esteem” and ” self-actualisation” levels of the human needs.

Many research articles have “warned” the educational authorities that to truely reform our schools and to motivate our learners,there are so many things that must happen first in the  students’ lives outside school.

So, to change the syllabus,and to print coloured text-books in Spain or somewhere else doesn’t really target the heart of the issue.What we need is to meet the students’ and the teachers’ first basic needs.First things have to be dealt with first.Numerous educational articles have found that the students that come from disadvantaged families perfrom badly in school.

Our authorities must first of all ensure that those who attend school are not hungry.We have to be sure that the student is not suffering from flu and,still, he/she can’t afford to buy the medecines.We must also undrestand that moral and psychological security comes before learning in the hirarchy of human needs.That’s why it’s of paramount importance to make our students feel secure inside and also outside school.I cannot imagine a student whose father is struggling with bread to attend school in full psychological readiness.No one can expect a parent who has ,maybe, ten other kids and struggling to ensure survival for them, no one can expect him/her to keep track of what his/her child is doing at school.This explains why  the majority of parents never come to school to inquire about their children’s educational difficulties or successs.And this is exactly the same reason why parents don’t come to school even if their child has a problem with a teacher or with the administration.Parents are too busy with the basic urges of their kids and their life.They have little space in their mind to fill with school matters.

An other factor that diminishes students’ achievement and which makes them at-risk children is the illiteracy of their parents.So many parents are illiterate ,and they are,consequently,totally unaware of the importance of education.Because of the high rates of unemployment in our country,and now in many developed countries too, parents believe that education has no  role in their kids’ life since they graduate ,and still remain jobless for the rest of their lives.Our educational authorities,hence,have to make it clear to parents that school is not all about jobs.Parents,illiterate ones I mean,should know the real value of sending their kids to school.But again this can only happen when their first basic needs are met.And to meet their basic needs,their poverty has to stop,and for poverty to stop,they should have jobs.It’s all an endless circle that is highly tied to poverty and survival.

Poverty does not only affect the school achievement of the poor child,but it also affects even the learning conditions of the other -middle class- students who are in the same class.Poor students are more likely to engage in misbehaviour affecting, therefore,both the teacher and the other class mates.This makes the job of the teacher inside the classroom even more complicated.He/she has to deal with various misbehaviour problems while doing his/her primary job of teaching.This also adds another burden to the teacher as he/she has to plan different lessons/activities for the advantaged and the less advantaged student in class;otherwise, the less advantaged one will keep on being poor in every thing.

To conclude,if our educational policy makers really want to improve education, they must think of ways to end the child’s poverty first.Only,then,comes reform into the other levels.Only then we can blame teachers and the curriculum for the bad results of kids and of the high rates of school drop-outs.


About brahim

An ELT supervisor. Interested in social media, blogging and the use of ICT in language teaching.

Posted on February 27, 2012, in Learners and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I had a few thoughts crashing into each other all at once when reading your post:

    1. Yes, Maslow’s idea is a very good one. He probably wasn’t on the front lines of teaching like you are, though, and so his chart doesn’t match your reality very much. I had an image in my brain of you teaching the contents of your post to your students and asking them to make their own version of Maslow’s chart. Whenever I have discussed a very heavy topic with my students, they realize it is important and think about it seriously with me.

    2. Do you believe that education, or literacy or English can help your students improve their lives? If so, I would bring a few key points up over and over again throughout the year so that you could guarantee that when students leave your class, they will all have that very clear message in their brains. I do this about the importance of fluency here in Japan where they only seem to focus on accuracy in their English studies. I refer to it so much that I see and hear students discussing fluency in their answers to me and to one another (this makes me smile).

    3. I wonder if blogging is something that your students can participate in. I would love to see some of their thoughts in English or translated by you into English. Could you show them how you are using your blog to explore ideas, and then have them respond on paper and you choose one to post on your blog? (I hope your students are not all 5 years old – hahaha)

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  2. Dear colleague,

    Allow me to share my point of view on this issue. Truth be told, I´m just an English teacher, I do not have super powers or a magic wand(lol). However, I know we can do a lot about education. All around the world leaders are trying to improve standards of education. These improvements are difficult to be carried out and results difficult to be seen.Even more due to the fact that human beings have the tendency of seeing just negative things. Millions of dollars are spent towards the same goal “Education”. And as you have said the words motivation is always there.

    Anyway,my comment is addressed to you and to educators who-the same as you- are change activists. I am sure there are plenty of things we* can do to improve education, no matter if you feel you are standing alone, you must bear in mind that there is a vast number of fighters around the world who want to help their students to achieve their goals and become better citizens, regardless of the kind of government we have and budgets,I am sure we can find a way to motivate our learners.

    You have said you are highly impressed by Maslow hierarchy of needs. Although we cannot motivate our students just by knowing about the hierarchy of needs, all the points addressed by Maslow are utterly important. I think we need to see the needs addressed by him as interrelated. I do not think one is on top of the other, we just need to rewire them, all of them are important and they should be seen in a connection. Adding that the needs that our students have are the same of of those students that lived sixty hundred years ago as our brain has not changed,what has changed is the paraphernalia of things that surround us,we as innovators,must know clearly which are our students needs.

    I do not mean we are going to give them food if they are hungry or give them better houses or clothes, what we earn is not much, almost everyone is aware of it. But by being in our student’ shoes, showing genuine interest in them, caring about them, I am sure we are going to help them succeed. After all, they are there in our classes,it means that being poor,hungry , having difficulties at home, whatever, has not prevented them from being in our classes. So’ we have to do whatever we can to motivate them, and we can only do that by helping them setting realistic goals.However, we must be sure of which our goals are and how we can help them achieve these goals. Leaders, who are not in our students’ shoes, who are not in our classes cannot know which are our students’ immediate needs or short and long terms goal, just teachers who are IN the classroom, everyday talking to them, reading their faces, their moods, can ,for certain, know what things interest them.Millions of books can be printed, you can have a paraphernalia of things in your classroom, and you can still achieve not much.On the other hand, I believe we can do a lot just by using a chalk,if we do the rights things and we set realistic goals and plan towards achieving them.

    Summing it up, I do not believe that the corner stone of school reform is Maslow and the hierarchy of needs.Nevertheless, we need to see them all rewired and by knowing which are our students’ needs, show them how education, if you believe so, will help them supply those needs, in your case Brahim , you are keen on working with technology and you are good at using it. So use it to motivate your students, set realistic goals for them, do whatever you can to show them how what you are doing may help them. Be the change you want to see around !And on top of it all help them be happier day after day!

    * educators/teachers

    • First of all thank you for taking a great portion of your time to read and comment on my post on the “corner-stone of school reform”.You have made such great ideas there,and I really wish they were made in the form of a single post so that I publish it separately.Now,I would like to respond to some of your ideas.
      Recent research studies have shown that poverty really has an effect on the student’s achievement.No one can deny ,I think,that when a student is hungry,he/she will have no reason to think of the school obligations.It’s obvious that air,water and bread are of basic importance to all the living beings.“Our average scores are less than spectacular because the U.S. has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all industrialized countries,” said Krashen, professor emeritus at the University of Southern California .Notice that this is happening in America.So can you imagine how things are happening in third world countries?
      You have mentioned that the needs in Maslow’s hirarchy are not meant in that order.I totally have a different view as I think that the order put by Maslow is exactly the natural order in which humans conceive their own needs.It would be totally impossible for a teacher to adress a student’s cognitive needs while that student is struggling with survival or with security.A simple test can be done in schools just by asking students if they would attend school if their survival was threatened by any sort of danger.So often we hear our students saying that they can’t concentrate on the instructions simply because they are hungry,physically or emotionally exausted.So, certain needs have to be fulfilled first for the message to be transfered to the student’s mind.
      You have concluded in the end that we should know our students’needs,and then we show them that “education will help them supply those needs”.How can you show a student that education can supply his/her food needs.Hunger can’t “wait” it has to be dealt with that moment and that time.
      Thanks for taking enough of your time to post here.

  3. I honestly believe that Maslow was focusing on a healthy individual, but from my humble point of you I would not place the needs in that order as it is usually shown, i do not see them in a hierarchical order.Of course if an individual comes to the class hungry,he or she will not learn the same way,maybe it wouldn´t be the same if he comes hungry but being loved and not lacking social skills. Being loved ,Social skills,and self actualization according to research are important even when the most important needs are unfulfilled.
    How old are your students Brahim?

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