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Politics, Economics and Education

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by Ati Gipson Fri, Aug 12. 2011

It is the time of year when students are placed into the different secondary schools and parents trek through the doors of the Ministry of Education expressing their disapproval as to the school to which their child/children has/have been assigned.{{more}}

They plead with Education officials for a change of school with a mixture of truth and fabrication to justify their reason for such a change. Many, however, do have a genuine case on economic grounds. It begs the question – whether many of our senior decision makers consider the plight of the poor when such decisions are made? Despite the fact that the government is providing school meals in primary schools and at least 60 per cent of the prescribed text books to secondary school pupils, many parents face tremendous difficulty in sending their children to school.

The Ministry of Education policy makers can play their part in easing the financial burden of parents without compromising the quality of education delivered. For instance, there has been a recent trend in the school curriculum and by the extension syllabuses to incorporate quite a significant amount of workbooks at the primary level. In the past, many books were passed down to younger siblings, but with the advent of workbooks, that practice is virtually ruled out, thus imposing further encumbrance on the poor.

The changing of textbooks is another area of concern where greater attention should be paid – if only for obvious economic reasons. This must be appraised from the viewpoint where the Ministry of Education should strike the right balance between keeping pace with educational modernity and economic reality.

Then there is the evocative question of assigning students to secondary schools when they fall outside the first 500 top places at the Common Entrance Examination. The present policy of the Ministry of Education is to assign students outside that first 500 top spots to schools preferably in their locality. However, because of capacity constraint in the remaining secondary schools outside the 5 premier in Kingstown proper, many students are assigned to the next available school which may require extra commuting and cost to both student and parents.

For example, some years ago, a student whose dwelling house was separated from the Bethel High School by a fence, was sent to Buccament Secondary. It meant that that student had to take two buses on his/her way to school. He/she had to Commute to the main artery (the Leeward Highway), then take another bus to school. A similar situation occurs with students who have to travel from the Vermont Valley. Many of these anomalies occur every year. Certainly, capacity constraints in the main secondary schools in Kingstown proper is one factor, irrespective of the fact that all 26 secondary schools in this country could easily absorb all new entrants. However, another is the benighted ranking of schools.

To be fair, the Ministry of Education and the Government in many respects have tried their best to cushion such negative effects in their placement of students. The government has sought to ameliorate such difficulties by busing children to school, if affected in the above mentioned manner. Great credit must also be given to Mrs. Ollivierre, who works assiduously in trying to mitigate such anomalies.

Many of us in society believe that the less fortunate members of society don’t care about their child/children’s education. The majority of them do and are aware of the ranking of schools in this country. They also aspire for their offspring to go to the best secondary schools, irrespective of their performance. Why not?

I have written several constructive, comparative and informative articles on education under a nom de plume (my mother’s maiden name), arguing that the policy of ranking schools can psychologically affect impressionable young minds, creating a sense of superiority or inferiority among children, especially those from the lower strata of society.

The government may lack the resources to bring all the schools up to same level. It is also true that the vast majority of students may not have the aptitude for the sciences. However, the Ministry of Education should strive to bring some schools on par with the St.Vincent Grammar School and the Girls’ High School throughout the island. These schools could be Georgetown Secondary, West St. George (near completion), Central Leeward (Barrouallie) secondary and Bethel High School (the largest school in size and population) – then all children can be zoned irrespective of their position in the Common Entrance Examination (CEE).

Another approach that may be explored is adopting the American model of middle and upper school, with the lower secondary being forms 1 to 3 and the upper secondary being from forms 3 to 5. The 4 top schools (St. Vincent Grammar, Girls’ High and the faith based St.Martin’s and Kingstown Convent ) can be upper schools, while all the others are converted to middle schools. Then each and every child will get a chance to walk the corridors of the top secondary schools in this country.

The obvious question someone would ask is why I choose to write this article revealing my identity since I am working in the Ministry of Education and why not ventilate such ideas there. My obvious response – I am writing as an individual and not as a Civil Servant. Using a topical analogy, I have been simply “timetabled out of the programme” because of an article questioning the relevance and impact of the “Common Entrance Exam” on the poor; my independent thought and candidness. However, as a professional who has honed his skills overseas, where there was minimal supervision – “I create my own work”.

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