Chords of excellence in our schools
Last week, Vincentian students taking external exams at the secondary and tertiary levels received their grades. And once again, as we have done in previous years, we have showered praises on our students’ for their performance – some of whom had us scrambling for language to describe chords of excellence that match or exceed the very best performances anywhere within the Caribbean.
Perfection is not a word we should ever use in measuring academic performances, but clearly, some Vincentian students have approached perfection. For what other word is there to describe a student who sat for 15 subjects and achieved top grades in all of them?
The standards of excellence of our top performers do not obscure the performance of their fellow students. For when students of the St Vincent Girls’ High School are achieving a 100 per cent pass rate in 19 subject areas, and several other schools like the St Joseph’s Convent Kingstown, the St Vincent Grammar School and the Thomas Saunders Secondary have impressive pass rates, and if we add to the fact that we have seen this level of excellence for at least the past five years, it is obvious that Vincentian students, teachers, and parents place the very highest value on their intellectual growth of our students.
Their sustained intellectual excellence across the board underlines the central truth of the education experience: students excel when the educational system cultivates and rewards excellence.
There are indeed dissident voices who seek to damn with faint praise, or outright mis-characterize and diminish the value of our students’ achievements. More often than not, these tormented souls have sought to construct cause and effect relationships between the unemployment rates in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the presumed arrival of new graduates in an economy that is supposedly unable to absorb them. In doing so, however, the Jeremiahs completely misunderstand the relationship between education and the development of a society in at least three ways.
The first is pretty simple. The CAPE or CSEC examinations are not terminal exams. They are designed to be stepping stones to something greater. Our students’ performances therefore offer us a barometer of their capacity to climb the educational ladder. At some point all of them would enter the work place. And all of them would be far more educated than they would otherwise have been. Creating a more highly educated society is a process. It takes time. But this is the only way it can be done. It is an investment in our future which would bring immense benefits as these children take their place one day as the leaders of this country.
Second, the doomsayers struggle to understand the fluidity of history and that our students’ development of their intellectual capacity is absolutely critical if they are to successfully navigate the various challenges they would have to face. All of us recognize today that we are in a technological age scarcely imaginable just 20 years ago. Intellectual agility is a must for the world these children will meet. The future workplace is knowable only to the extent that it would be very different from what it is today. We therefore have a sacred duty to give our students the tools which would allow them to survive and thrive in a brave new world.
Third, education is the single greatest vehicle that enables social and economic mobility. Inherited wealth may indeed grant certain persons a head start in the race for social and economic security. But genius will not be contained if given the opportunity to grow. The value of universal education at the secondary level therefore is not that it made our students smarter. It did not. Nor did it give us a superior curriculum. Our curriculum is in fact a Caribbean wide curriculum. But what it did do is offer access to all. And some of our children who might otherwise have fallen by the wayside have seized the opportunity to ride the train of excellence into a better world.
Making this train available for all of our children is founded on an enduring love and faith in our children. In that sense what has become glorified and vilified by political partisans as the education revolution is not revolutionary at all. It is simply a renewed affirmation of an older Caribbean value that educating our children is our best path to giving them a better life. The extraordinary performances of so many of our students give us no reason to doubt that wisdom of the ages.