Sun | Dec 4, 2016

Don't surrender to the mob, Minister Thwaites

Published:Tuesday | March 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMR. Howard Thompson

I hope that the minister of education does not give in to the so-called stakeholders who are against his proposed policy of controlling the way students are transferred from school to school for sports, or any other reason for that matter.

The argument being put forward by critics is that parents should have the right to choose where their children or wards attend school, that schools should be the only or main arbiters in deciding who gets the choice they wish, and that there is some benefit to these students when they are so transferred.

But what about the parents of other children who wish to attend the same school? Do they not have rights? Whenever one child is allowed to go to his school of choice, he automatically denies the right of some other student the right to choose that school. In a state-funded system, the fact that a child is exceptionally talented should not give that child a right to go to any school at the expense of another child. He has every right to the better results he gets, but not to more opportunity.

The assumption that an athlete will likely do better at a school that does better in athletics has no supporting empirical evidence. The students who are being transferred have been recruited only after they have proven to be good.

There is no reason to believe that Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, George Kerr or Keith Gardner would have done any better had they gone to Calabar, Kingston College and Jamaica College. There may be reason enough for a student with talent to be sent to a school that has some sort of programme in which his talent could be developed. But almost all of our schools have such programmes, and there is no need to send them halfway across the island to compete for another school.

 

The ministry's duty

 

The ministry has a duty to stop such transfers for the simple reason that it must consider the effect on some less-talented student living down the road from the school who has been denied entry and been forced to take two or three taxis to some other school. The Government cannot afford to be star-struck by every talented athlete or academic. The State needs to look at the big picture and see how the movement of one set of students affects the others.

A child who lives below Cross Roads in Kingston resides in the area where there is the greatest concentration of prestigious schools with outstanding records of performance in academics and sports. There is no need to send the child to an uptown school and then force some other child who will get no special help to leave uptown for a downtown school.

Parents who are not satisfied and insist on sending their children to the school of their choice should be allowed to send them there only on condition that they pay the full cost of the tuition. Any money paid for the transfer of athletes should go to the Government to help them alleviate the difficulties of students who live near to the school but have been forced to go elsewhere.

We need to have a serious national discussion, not just about the transfer of students, but rather about the way we place students in the first place. The present system is based on certain interest groups connected to schools hustling talent to build good reputations for the schools and themselves.

In doing so we need to address the following questions: What is the purpose of having sports in schools and having schools compete against each other in a formal manner, keeping in mind that only a handful will perform well enough to make a living as professional athletes? What is the best way to deploy personnel and resources? Should we use the best resources and teachers for the best students, or should we pay the better teachers more money to teach weak students?

- R. Howard Thompson is an educator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.