When is school a prison?

I was walking around in my classroom today and I was attracted to a recently written graffiti which on the wall .That graffiti is a multiple choice question in which the writer asked his/her mates the following question:

“What is this place? choose the correct answer: – Prison         -Hospital.”

The writer or another student seems to have chosen the first choice “prison”.

This writing has pushed me to think about what is that that makes our students see school as either a prison or a hospital.I asked some of my classes about why school is a prison for them and they answered in different ways.Some of them think that schools don’t offer what students really need in their life.Some of them have expressed their opinion in written form saying that they study English,maths,geography and all the other core subjects;while,there is no space for other extra-curricular activities.Some students have said that the absence of subjects that appeal to students’ interests really demotivates them and makes school a boring place.The word “boring” was repeated in the answers of many of them.

Other students have said that school is “prison” for them because of the behaviours that come from some of their mates.

So many other writings on the walls of our school reflect the degree of hate that students -not all students of course- have towards school.Among the other writings that you see on the walls of our school are “rubbish”,”Shit!” and the like!

What is important in all that is not the words as such;but, how we can make students love school.The “reflections” that students write on the walls of classrooms while the teacher is busy with an activity or writing on the board show that students have other interests that are not catered for by the lesson that is taking place at the time of their writing.

Schools have to move from top-down systems where everything is decided from the top to a system where students have more freedom of choice.Schools should move into the era where students and teachers have more power on the materials they use,the activities they deal with and how they teach.

You might say that teachers are free to do all that!It’s not the case in our situation.The syllabus comes in the form of ministry circulars,the text-book is agreed upon and authorised by the ministry.The exams and the tests (number,methods,duration….) is all decided by the teacher.The amount of time that is located to a huge text-book  -the syllabus- doesn’t match the huge content that has to be covered,which makes it impossible for a teacher to think of other things except when and how to finish a program in which students will be tested on the national and regional levels.All these constraints are a so heavy load on the teacher’s /the student’s back.

It’s high time for our educational authorities and school headmasters to see extra-curricular activities as a “paradise” for the school and the student.A huge amount of materials (grammar,reading,functions…) dealt with in a text-book doesn’t necessarily mean that those students have learned a lot.It means neither that the teacher has worked a lot or even better.Little is so enough and great when students see it as great.Too much materials leaves no room for the teacher’s and the student’s creativity and that’s exactly the job of old-times ‘ prisons.So,no wonder if students see school as prison.

Look,we shouldn’t forget  that in many parts of the globe,including my country,our children have got more freedom outside school these days than they have in schools.It’s so sarcastic and funny that we keep teaching about human rights,values and freedom of choice ;while, school is the place where that is to be expected less,at least in the present time.

High school students are around 18-20 years old.They are mature and old enough to make decisions and have their own choices.Teachers are there to cater for the students’ needs,and they should be given that ethical right with no reservation.Teachers are the only ones who know what,when and how to teach.They also know that there times where teaching grammar or any other language skill wouldn’t work.So,give them the freedom to skip grammar and do something else that will certainly be of great benifit for the student.I am not advocating an anti-syllabus or anti-textbook view.A road map is always necessary for the goals to be achieved.My view is the road map should be the teacher’s business.The road map can be altered or simply ignored when that is necessary.With the present status-quo of education,teachers and students are obliged to follow a map that might lead to no where.

School should match the kind of life that students are living outside, either at home or outside home; if it is really to be called “school”.

Another graffiti in our school saying "Live the prison"!


About brahim

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

Posted on May 5, 2012, in Learners and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. naima charfi

    You should see what ps n ts are producing in our schools: Open Days cater for the need to express oneself, excel and learn outside the classroom. Project-Based Learning is the answer: plays, reports, songs, poems, games, competitions…..If u teach in the capital, come n join us. Find me on Facebook: naima charfi

    • Thanks Naima for taking your time to comment on my article.I am soryy to say that we live in tow different countries.I am from Morocco.But,I suppose we share the same worries about teaching EFL,especially when it comes to secondary schools where teachers and students struggle hopelessly with finishing never ending curriculums before the coming of national exams.
      I do agree totally that “open days”have a tremendous role in making the students realise that school is part of their life,their family and their society,and not a place for closing the doors and the walls behind them.
      In Morocco too,schools are normally required to open their doors to the rest of the community.Yet,in reality some headmasters continue to ignore the real purpose behind that,and they refeuse to make school part of the students’ life,and this is,consequently,why students see their school as totally exotic to their reality and life.

  2. rachid attou

    You are 100% right about writing this meaningfull artical sir. I read once an artical which titled ” how can unmotivate teacher, motivate unmotivate students” i really like it because it tackls so many big issues and main problems. the big one is that so many teachers that are employed for teaching is that they are not well-formed and are not qualified to run a classroom and the methods that should be followed to make a student understood.

  3. naima charfi

    Salam Si Ibrahim,
    The word ‘Habs’ misled me thinking that u were a Tunisian teacher. But, anyway, I think it all depends on u: u r the one to decide n to be the change u want to see around u.
    Good Luck!
    P.S: I’m ready 2 share ideas to help with motivation.

  4. Thanks again for your reflections concerning education in morocco; one senses your sincere and through analysis of the issue in its general contours. true education inmorocco should respect specific characteristics of each region, ; tinghir is more of a city which depneds on agricultural and tourism economy, no offices , no industry. education should target these main area, arabic should not be a main subject for bac students who are originally amazigh,and they should demonstrate full mastery of the arabic language topass a bac test _” respecting regionalism”. i share with you your thoughts, with some reserves, because some students are not interested in schooling for family and social problems which weigh heavily on them

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