Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Mark Ricketts | Students should be curious

Published:Sunday | October 16, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Mark Ricketts

"My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities, and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities."

- Mario Testino


Yes, Immaculate High School for girls continued its record of excellence with a 100 per cent score of all its students who sat this year's CSEC and passed at least five subjects, including English and mathematics. Just being nipped was Campion, which has maintained its stellar performance over the years, scoring an impressive 99.5 per cent.

Other secondary schools in the upper echelons of the 90s included St Hilda's, Hampton, Mt Alvernia, Wolmer's Girls, Westwood, Glenmuir, and deCarteret. Such outstanding achievement must have gladdened the hearts of parents, teachers, friends, and, of course, the successful students themselves.

Contrast this with the mood and feelings which must have emerged in homes and schools and among students themselves at 54 of 161 secondary schools, where passes of the external CSEC exam, with five subjects or more, including not mathematics and English, but mathematics or English, were less than 10 per cent. It must have been disconcerting. It must have been devastating. That 10 per cent number is much worse if we included the students who did not even qualify to sit the exam.

Think of that child sitting in class, year after year, going through the paces, with rituals defining being there at the beginning of each school year, arriving at school in a uniform, acknowledging being present for each class, and sitting there, and sitting there, and sitting there, except for breaks for lunch, and leaving the classroom at the end of the day to go home.

It is as if nothing of meaning has been presented, and, if it has, there is no assimilation, no appreciation, and no regurgitation. There is nothing to question, nothing to understand, nothing to garner, and nothing to retain. After a time, the student wonders what all of this is about and where is it leading. It all seems a collection of nothing, a location of nowhere, and a total disconnect between student, parent, teacher, community, and country.

The Ministry of Education sees numbers: teachers hired, classrooms in use, students enrolled, teacher-pupil ratios, but then the student's sojourn comes to an end, probably at 15 years of age, and if he or she is a failing student, in a failing school, in a failing neighbourhood, he or she withdraws or exits without curiosity, without awareness, and without an ability to formulate ideas or effectively communicate.

He or she is confused, drifting anonymously through disappointment, despair, annoyance, distress, and being embittered. Muted, they can't even offer an explanation to distraught parents desperately in need of knowing.

"Did you take the exam? Did you fail? How many subjects did you pass? You must pass even one. You could not sit in class all this time and not even pass one? So what were you doing all these years? Speak up! I can't hear you! You mean you have nothing to tell your mother, who makes sure every day you are dressed properly to go to school and finds bus fares for you even when I don't have it?"

The student listens to his or her mother, but can't hear her; looks at her, but can't see her. They are bereft of emotion. For them, somewhere is nowhere and something is nothing. This is underscored by the findings in the publication Prisms of Possibility: A report card on education in Jamaica.




Zeroing in on one of the many areas of concern, the report makes reference to the large proportion, 30 per cent of "out-of-school youth", 15-16 years, who indicated they were not in school because they were "not interested". The study found this worrisome, as it may indicate a need for increasing relevance of what is being taught.

The education ministry, with a budget of $97 billion, including a non-budgeted item of $3 billion this year, has the second largest budget allocation behind the Ministry of Finance, and with a whopping increase of 15 per cent, year-over-year, I think the Ministry of Education should refocus its emphasis and direction so as to minimise the failures and unsuccessful school leavers who really have limited options - no passes, no certificates, no awareness, no curiosity, no interests, and no values.

In all of this, it is not just the Ministry of Education recording another statistic of non-achievement but the society absorbing yet another person that might not be able to make any meaningful contribution, and who, instead, might have to pursue low-level vending or nefarious activities to keep body and soul together.

Behavioural, emotional, and cognitive deficiencies add to the sense of drift, of hustle, driven by need and/or a perverse sense of entitlement. Then come hurt and rage and revenge.

Imagine a student, similar to the one who left school at 15 in the example I gave above, starting school with the Internet already in place and improved technology, including a TV in the classroom, showing mostly Jamaican actors and actresses depicting real-life options in various professions. Being engaged visually, the student will see what he or she would like to be in life. School will be more interesting and informative, and they will learn about what is entailed in getting where they want to go.

Guided, as well as prodded for solutions in interactive sessions, and being aided through TV programmes to grapple with the vexing questions of conflict resolution and anger management, school would now take on relevance for the student.

With this higher level of interest and engagement, this student, if he or she left school at 15, unlike the other student in the earlier example, would have developed the art of conversation, and, most important, he or she would be far more aware and curious. And I haven't even touched as yet the impact and utility of the curriculum. Also benefiting students would be films of Jamaican achievers who they can identify with, emulate, or be motivated by.

The impact of all this comes from what I hope will be the Ministry of Education, Training and Technology with a nerve centre, The New Technology School Hub, which will transmit a message saying the ministry is using technology to up-skill our students as quickly as possible.

On the subject of education, there is more that needs to be said, including core subject requirements and equalising brilliant instruction for all. I am putting those on hold to look at the pressing issue of crime.

To start off my series will be an interview with the commissioner of police, Dr Carl Williams.

- Mark Ricketts, economist, author and lecturer living in California, was chief economist of the Vancouver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chairman of the Jamaica Stock Exchange; and assistant editor of the 'Financial Post', Canada's largest financial weekly newspaper. Email feedback to and