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Schools of excellence

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“In the abundance of water, the fools are thirsty.” Bob Marley

Thirsty men need water. That Bob Marley understood, as in fact does everyone else. But in one of the greatest songs he ever wrote, “Rat Race,” Bob Marley captured the fundamental predicament of those so trapped in their own webs of deceit and hate that they become blinded to the multitude of pathways offering them a way out of their self-constructed maze. In the abundance of water they thirst, but they do not drink. They are fools, says Bob Marley.{{more}}

Bob Marley’s insight offers us a platform and a warning from which we can evaluate the August 16 news release from the Ministry of Education detailing our students’ performances in the just concluded Caribbean Examination Council Secondary Certificate Examinations (CSEC). The language of the release is quite staid: “There were 1,468 school candidates sitting 10,164 subject entries in 34 subject areas from 26 secondary schools” reads one line. Or take these lines: “Approximately 75 per cent of the subject entries were awarded Grades 1-111… There were six schools which recorded percentage pass rates of 80% or more.”

In a nation that is too often mired in political disputes and where the scourge of crime and economic uncertainties dominate public discourse, the performance of our students and our schools in a Caribbean wide examination confounds the claims of a country of squandered resources, bereft of vision, and lacking in leadership. For quite simply, our greatest resource is our people; our future rests upon what we do with our children, and it is a non-negotiable responsibility of our leaders to produce the conditions within which our children can thrive.

In this regard, the Ministry of Education has published numbers which tell of the outstanding efforts of our students, teachers, and parents to seek out and indeed reach excellence. Of this there can be no dispute. The Ministry tells us that 12.3 per cent of the passes were at Grade 1. But they could also have said that Vincentian students taking the CSEC exams achieved the highest performances 900 times, for this is precisely what they did! Consider for a moment what this means. In exams set outside of St Vincent and the Grenadines and graded by markers around the region, 900 times our students produced performances which matched the very best performances across the entire Caribbean. Not only does this represent independent affirmation of the quality of these students, it is also a compelling statement that these students are on an academic trajectory without limits. Indeed, one student produced an Olympian performance, securing 20 passes, including 17 Grade 1’s.

To what then do we owe such exceptional performances? Obviously the students’ drive for success and the support mechanism from their parents and community are very important. But as the Ministry’s numbers also make very clear, we have in SVG a cohort of secondary schools which can only be described as schools of excellence.

The Ministry’s release noted in rather dry language that, “there were six schools which recorded percentage pass rates of 80 per cent or more.” In doing so, they buried the truly staggering performance of the Girls’ High School, whose students achieved a pass rate of 97.19 per cent. And it too easily glided past the fact that with pass rates above the ninetieth percentile, the St Vincent Grammar School and the St Joseph’s Convent Kingstown join the Girls’ High School in a powerful Triumvirate of Learning that must be the benchmark to which all of our secondary schools must aspire. Moreover the resurgence of St Martin’s Secondary School to its traditional role of challenging the St Vincent Grammar School for bragging rights as the best boys’ school in the land offers powerful proof that the capacity to excel exists in every school.

We, of course, need to be on guard against triumphalism. Some students and some schools clearly performed far below the performances of our finest schools and our finest students. The Ministry’s release only listed the performances of 17 schools, while noting that students from 26 schools sat the CSEC exams. The public also has a right to know how well or how poorly these other schools performed. In a country whose greatest asset is its human capital, we cannot afford to leave any child or any school behind. It is obviously unjust to those children and those schools. And it damages the developmental potential of our country.

But none of this needs be the case. For, as our schools of excellence have shown, we have the wherewithal in SVG to lay the foundations necessary for our students to excel. We must put that knowledge, those skills, and the necessary resources in every school. To do otherwise would be to live up to Marley’s maxim that “in the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.” Vincentians may be many things. But we are not fools.

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