What if we rethink school?
Last week, the Ministry of Education released some of the 2014 CXC pass rates and my heart broke. Sure my beloved alma mater Campion College came out on top with exceptional pass rates, but I couldn't help but notice all the other schools that had not performed as well. Schools that have not been performing well for years; if ever at all.
My commentary today won't be as humorous as those in the past ... because I don't see anything funny about the matter. We are failing our children.
I honestly feel that a lot of people turn to a life of crime because they don't have an option. A man must eat. Natural instinct says he is going to find a way to feed himself and his family. The educated man has options. Yes, jobs are hard to find, but at least he is employable. The man who doesn't have math and English or a skill is completely optionless. And high schools turn out the optionless in droves every year, hoping that their lives will magically sort themselves out.
And so I propose, why not totally rethink how we educate our students. The fact is, most will never get a tertiary education, either because they can't afford it or because they just don't have the academic aptitude for further studies. Why not use high school to prepare students for the world of work, since it is highly likely that will be their next stop? Refocus the objective from "how many subjects have you graduated with" to "what jobs are you now qualified to do". I say we train a workforce.
Here's how I see the new school system. You focus on the good ole 3 Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic in all schools. If the truth is that all employers require that you pass math and English and we need young people who can express themselves, then spend extra time on those subjects and use teachers' colleges to train specialists in those areas and deploy them in every school.
Next, I say introduce specific HEART programmes in those schools that traditionally have not done well. In the west, most people are employed in the hotel and tourism sector. And they get into those jobs right out of high school. I say, prepare students for those careers from early. We get a lot of tourists from Germany and Spain. Teach German and Spanish and make them electives that some can choose. Teach a practical history that arms students with the knowledge to become tour guides; offer housekeeping and reception skills as subjects.
Portland and St Elizabeth are big farming communities, and they have schools that are turning out less than desirable pass rates. Teach the kids to farm, and not just hoe and cutlass farming. Expose them to more modern, First-World farming. The kind of farming people get rich off; (it exists). And not everyone has to be a farmer. Electives should be available for those who want to run a farm store, those who want to develop value-added products, tractor mechanics, etc.
The Campions of the world, some say, perform well because of the crop of students they are given; best of the best. OK. Let's say we accept that as fact. I'm all for blooming where you are planted, but a rose bush cannot become a mango tree. Not everybody is cut out for a life of academics, and it's high time we all accept that.
Some may say my way forces students into choosing a career path from early, that it may stagnate the growth of a bright child in Portland who could become a doctor.
I say there should be a Campion in every parish. A school where the brightest minds from the parish go and get exposed to the finest teaching that moulds good into better. These schools, I feel, should prepare students who can handle it for the academic journey. Teach them trigonometry and chemistry in its purest form. But how does a failing grade in physics help the woman who works as a bartender right out of school?
We have to get practical about education. Institutions need to start really turning out high-school leavers who feel prepared for the world of work.
I lift my hat to Canada. They have been very strategic in identifying those professions that are in short supply in their country. They have been analytical enough to identify the actual region where the skills are needed, and they actively implement measures to fill that gap.
This is an area I feel the ministries of labour and education need to work together on. Labour should be able to say what entry-level jobs are most available in each parish and education should then ensure that high-school training for those professions is available.
I also see a big opportunity for revenue generation for the schools. The Ministry of Agriculture should be supplying the agriculture schools with a seasonal list of crops that we need to reduce the import bill, and I say the targeted schools should grow those crops and real-life education about the value chain can happen as well as the school earning some money.
The cosmetology school can offer discounted hairdos to students and parents on Fridays, earn extra money on Saturdays giving manis and pedis, and offer make-up and makeovers at minimal cost for community members.
We have half a million students between the ages of 10 and 19; we must do right by them. Less than 50 per cent of students in 5th form are even put forward to sit the math and English CXC exams. Something has to give! This is a crisis and it cannot be education as usual.