• Charles Farrugia

10. Aim One: Refine People’s Communication Skills

Birds, fish, and animals make appropriate noises to transmit messages to each other. Humans have the extraordinary capacity to transform thoughts, ideas and feelings into speech and symbols to interconnect with each other. The ability to communicate at a high degree of abstraction is one special gift that distinguishes us from other species. Let us explore how Education helps us refine this gift.

Consider the situation in the simple communications model below. The lady’s (sender) bowels tell her she needs to go to the toilet. Through speech (channel and medium= air) she asks the gentleman (receiver) for the way to the restroom (message). He tells her (feedback) to follow him. A human interaction completed successfully.

However, let’s imagine that the lady asks the question in a language the gentleman does not understand, or she mumbles incomprehensibly, or her speech is inaudible. Alternatively, the gentleman may be deaf, or in a hurry and loath to waste his time. Perhaps he happens to be in a bad mood or simply is of an unhelpful disposition. Also, he might not know that ‘restroom’ stands for ‘toilet’ or where it is. In such cases the gentleman would not reply and the communication would have failed.

The best communicators are good listeners

Education, schools, teachers (and in a different environment, parents) help students present messages that are well-defined to avoid misunderstandings. Some adults and many young people find it difficult to organise their own thoughts processes or to understand their own emotions. They need guidance not to become frustrated, withdrawn or aggressive. Educators provide such guidance.

Once people organise their ideas, they often wish to share them with others (as I am doing here). They also want to know what others feel and think. These exchanges lead to interpersonal relationships that we engage in continuously.

Most times, we communicate efficiently but when communications fail, the result leads to misunderstandings, arguments and conflicts. Indeed, successful communications provide an essential survival tool in our complex world.

We, teachers and parents, do not teach students to speak and listen since people do this instinctively. We train them to clarify and formulate their thoughts and feelings. Students learn to test their ideas for internal consistency and then express them without ambiguity in coherent speech or other media. Teachers do this through class discussions and debates. They progress to comprehension, report and essay writing. In addition, to achieve these aims, progressive schools engage students in drama, video recordings and interviews.

The school curriculum is replete with subjects that improve communications.

Literacy = ability to read and write.

Language learning is the most prominent subject to become literate, but by no means the only one. Here, teachers provide students with structured learning experiences through language and grammar exercises that train students to acquire knowledge and understanding of the world around them. Mundane exercises that promote correct spelling and punctuation contribute towards students’ ability to communicate accurately. It leads to confusion if one writes ‘were’ or ‘where’ when one means ‘wear’. Or to speak and write in the past tense, when one means the future. Even in modern mobile phone text-messaging, structured, well-chosen words in concise texts lead to more efficient communications than garbled ones.

Reading, and the study of Literature, builds students’ vocabulary, and more importantly expose readers to the thoughts and ideas of others, some trivial, others of great depth and significance. Because you and I read English, we can know of Shakespeare’s thoughts about the royalty of his time. We learn about the conditions in which rich and poor people lived in Dickens’ London. We discover the opinions of prominent scholars on current domestic and international issues. We can read foreign literary works in translation. Learning one or more foreign language opens up communication potentials exponentially to the thoughts and writings of other cultures, past and present.

Numeracy renders us able to interpret, compute and communicate by means of numbers. Those of us who cannot handle numbers find it extremely difficult to function efficiently in a society where we are bombarded continuously with numerical data. Computer and information technology render the mastery of numeracy essential in today’s world. Education aims to provide students with this ability.

Media Studies offer students the opportunity to encounter other forms of communication modes. Here, students learn that still and moving pictures, diagrams, cartoons, real and simulated sounds form part of the mass communication media. These, like verbal language, have their own structure and syntax. Students also learn to appreciate the power of the mass and social media, to interpret and evaluate messages emanating from these sources of information, to distinguish between valid and fake news.

One most important feature of successful communication is for the listener

(receiver) to listen carefully to what the sender is saying. Many listeners tend to pay more attention to how they intend to reply, than to listen carefully to what the speaker is saying. To listen well is essential to all conversation” said Confucius.

In the next blog, we shall deal with the second aim of Education, that of Promoting a healthy mind in a healthy body.

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