Letters & Opinion

Empowerment: A Vitally Important Yardstick of School Success or Failure

By Dr. Claudia J. Fevrier

“IF they can make penicillin [using penicillium mold], they can sure make something out of you” (Consider the great Muhammad Ali’s inspiring words)

Dr. Claudia J. Fevrier
By Dr. Claudia J. Fevrier

What Ali’s quote simply means, according to Hanson (2020), is that everyone has potential–the natural ability or quality that could develop to make them very good. It is just a matter of identifying a person’s strengths (or talents) and, then, enhancing these talents until they can reach their full potential. This is why identifying one’s strengths is so important. Hanson’s lucid explanation parallels the Strengths Perspective.

Let us read on to gain a better understanding of the Strengths Perspective relative to the topic at hand–Empowerment: A Vitally Important Yardstick of School Success or Failure.

The University of Kansas, for example, views the Strengths Perspective as an approach to social work that puts the strengths and resources of people, communities, and their environments, instead of their problems and pathologies, at the center of the helping process. It was created as a corrective and transformative challenge to predominant practices and policies that reduce people and their potential to deficits, pathologies, problems, and dysfunctions. The Strengths Perspective emphasizes the human capacity for courage, resilience, resistance, ingenuity and thriving, and it champions the rights of individuals and communities to form and achieve their own goals and aspirations. While acknowledging the difficulties that individuals experience, the Strengths Perspective never limits people to their problems, traumas, obstacles, illness, or adversity. Rather, it addresses them as challenges, opportunities, and motivators for change.

In a nutshell, the Strengths Prospective is designed to promote empowerment. What, then, is empowerment?

Empowerment, as Hughes et al. (2019) see it, often means different things to different people. From a leadership standpoint, the authors define empowerment as having two key components: one of the two–the one most often overlooked–is equipping followers with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to make good decisions. The Merriam Webster Dictionary underscores the concept of empowerment as ‘the act or action of empowering someone or something: the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.’ Further, Carr (2003) posits that empowerment is both a theory and a practice, and a process as well as an outcome.

It is interesting to note that the Strengths Perspective, closely aligned with the empowerment theory and practice, resonates not only with the social and cultural milieu but, also, with the education landscape. For example, the University of Kansas states that it has “long joined the Strengths Perspective with commitments to honour diversity, to promote [student] empowerment and justice, and to engage in critical inquiry and thinking.”

Certainly, the best schools make a commitment to put students first at all times. They understand that the action of student empowerment is fundamental to the application of the Strengths Perspective. Their principal aim is to empower their students not merely through the transmission of knowledge of subject matter but, importantly, also, through the growth and development of students’ personal strengths or talents to yield a positive outcome. In doing the latter, these schools consider the key principles behind the Strengths Perspective: they recognize that every student has strengths or talents; they engage in systematic assessment of students’ strengths and; equip them with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to develop their strengths until they reach their full potential.

What is critical at this juncture is the concern for measurability, for empowerment, in my view, is a vitally important yardstick of school success or failure. Standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to employ to make judgments about teacher effectiveness or school success. Such scores should only be a part of an overall comprehensive assessment and evaluation. Any sound evaluation will necessarily include a combination of many variables that provide a more accurate view of what teachers actually do in the classroom, and how that contributes to student learning, their welfare, and their livelihood.

It must be admitted that empowerment is not easily measurable in an objective sense. Despite what seems to be a limitation, a concerted and deliberate attempt should be made by Ministry of Education officials and other stakeholders to assess each school in this regard–to use student empowerment as a yardstick or benchmark to determine whether schools are in fact nurturing the skills, strengths, or talents with which students are endowed.

Believe it or not, the Almighty God in His goodness, love, and mercy has endowed every child on planet earth with a “star” so that they can grow up to take control of their own lives and earn a livelihood.

Further, it cannot be overemphasized that schools should make a concerted and deliberate effort to empower students to take control of their own lives in order to earn a livelihood by capitalizing on their natural skills, strengths or talents. Empowerment is an important part of school success or failure. An understanding of the ways that students’ skills, strengths, or talents are shaped and developed during the elementary school years is essential in a problems approach.

It is equally important to think about the roles of education administrators, teachers, principals, parents, and the community in an empowerment education for the sake of students’ livelihood. They want students to feel positive toward school; to have certain kinds of ambitions for themselves; to strive to do their best work; to be fair and friendly in interacting with other students; and to be loyal, honest, respectful, industrious, and so on (Turner, 1999). It is vitally important, also, for them to assist in providing the appropriate avenue or job market for the application of students’ fully developed skills and talents to help them to earn a living when they exit the education system.
This ideal model of education begs the question, what does the yardstick of empowerment reveal relative to the success of Saint Lucian schools?

In Saint Lucia, there are social problems of vast significance, as we can see, hear, and feel. In the light of the above, it is safe to conclude that these societal ills are indicative of a lack of individual empowerment. We must interpret the origins and growth of these social problems, first of all, in terms of the failure of Saint Lucian schools to empower the people’s children, as well as the nation’s children, entrusted to their care. It is, undoubtedly, every school’s duty and responsibility to pick up from where the children’s homes have placed them.

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