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Universal access to secondary education is very unequal

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Tue Aug 27, 2013

Editor: I wish to applaud the many organisations which have, over the years, made it their priority to assist the primary school students of the nation through scholarships, bursaries and miscellaneous supplies, as they move to secondary schools.{{more}}

A concern that I have, though, is the method by which this assistance is provided. The fact is that most of the students who benefit from this support are usually from the first 500 performers in the “Common Entrance” examination. Why? We need to look at that. In addition to this method of selection, scholarships are provided by organisations only to children who have a parent or relative who have a stake in the organisation. Why so? We need to look at that too.

Looking further into this awarding of educational support, the “bright” students who benefit normally come from families that can adequately nurture, outfit, send and monitor their students in the primary school system.

The question is: When we choose to award benefits to these who perform well, do we not shut the door closed against others? Those students who do not perform well, because they come from deprived, challenged and “most in need” homes, are they not the ones who badly deserve the assistance?

From my point of view, more often than not, many of these students perform poorly, not because of their own failure to prepare. They fail rather due to the lack of resources to prepare in the way that the others who are financially and emotionally equipped are able to.

To make matters worse, when we exalt and praise the top performers in the CSEC/ CXC exams from the GHS and Grammar School, isn’t it obvious what we are doing? Isn’t it practically the same selection of privileged performers that we chose five years earlier that we again bring to the limelight? They went with our help to the top schools, with the better equipped laboratories, the more experienced teachers, and fit into the tradition and culture of high performance that the school expects. It is like we shuffle a pack of cards in such a way as to keep the top privileged primary school children always at the top of the pack. Who are we fooling?

Let us be realistic and do justice to all our students. Arrange our scholarships and bursaries to reach down in an organized way to our needy primary school students who are not high performers, but have the most need. Let us stop discriminating against the poor and the vulnerable and those not organized in institutions. Let us put all our secondary schools on the same level of staffing, culture and resources. Let us plug the leak holes that make the weak performers drop further behind at each step of the school process – starting in infancy.

Universal access to secondary education must become truly universal by rethinking and changing how we award scholarships to students and by relocating, equal resources and value to all secondary schools. Students must receive awards not only for high marks, but also for needy living conditions, not charity or sympathy, but policy. We need to confront the unequal realities of our society, not close our eyes.

Marcella Dublin

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