Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Permission Slips…for Failure?

October 26th, 2009 · No Comments

Pity the poor children of Jinja, who have lost one of the great privileges of the grade-school years: the right to periodically spend a day at the zoo, museum, or box factory in the name of education. The field trip is no longer welcome in Uganda’s second city, having been blamed for declining grades and test scores:

Mr Kamwana said head teachers have a tendency of concentrating on pupils’ tours in third term instead of making final touches in preparation for the Uganda National Examination Board examinations.

“You are crying over the lack of money to print tests for primary seven pupils but when it comes to taking these candidates for tours, you don’t spend less than Shs2 million. Is that being serious on your side?” he asked.

This move strikes us entirely draconian, however, given that some of our fondest grade-school memories stem from field trips. (The one to the Griffith Observatory was a particular favorite, though excess enthusiasm did lead to a wounded eye socket.) But aside from the enjoyment we derived from being liberated from our desks for a day, did we actually learn anything meaningful? In other words, are field trips actually an integral part of a school’s curriculum, or are they just a frill?

The scientific literature here is spotty, at best. All we could dig up is this 1983 study, which found that preschoolers treated to regular field trips fared better than their non-mobile peers on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

Our gut tells us that much depends on a field trip’s leadership, rather than just the destination. Kids may love those teachers who let them run roughshod among dinosaur skeletons, oblivious to the placards on the walls. But it may take a taskmaster to ensure that such trips are actually worth a school district’s investment of time and money.

In other words, maybe what Jinja needs isn’t a ban on field trips, but more of a Sergeant Hulka type to lead the missions.

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