Owen Speid | ISSA’s academic bar lacks merit
With a growing number of students in our Jamaican school system having been diagnosed with learning disabilities, we should be absolutely concerned that the Inter-Secondary Schools' Sports Association (ISSA) has continued to impose an academic bar on students seeking to represent their school in sports.
It must be noted that children with learning disabilities are those who have neurological challenges over which they have no control, and these prevent them from learning at a certain rate at given stages of their development.
It is sad that in 21st-century Jamaica, ISSA does not see it fit to use research to inform its decisions, and this has left some of our most vulnerable youth humiliated for things over which they have no control.
In 2014, islandwide assessment of approximately 1,000 students per region who were suspected by their teachers of having learning disabilities was carried out by a team commissioned by the Ministry of Education.
The findings showed that 54 per cent of those assessed were found to have learning disabilities. More than 30 per cent of those students were found to be in need of immediate intervention. A lack of human and physical resources made it impossible for them to get the necessary intervention before some of them are sent off to secondary schools that participate in ISSA-run competitions.
The rights of a child who does sports are no different from the rights of a child who participates in performing arts, clubs and societies, because all of these activities were designed and made available in schools for the growth and development of the children.
How then are all other students, except athletes of all sports, allowed to represent their schools without satisfying any form of academic requirement?
What is going to be done to protect the vulnerable high-school student who is very talented at sports, has his learning disabilities, did not get any form of intervention, tries his heart out, but can only get 25-30 per cent scores because of his condition?
I say without fear of contradiction that organisations such as ISSA, the Child Development Agency, Jamaicans For Justice, the Office of the Public Defender, the Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Education have failed these youngsters. They need to step forward with urgency with a view to correcting these atrocities meted out to our talented youth.
Modern schools do not need entities like ISSA to regulate them. There are greater levels of support and accountability now than in those days over two and a half decades ago when this rule came about. Schools are now supported more vigorously by PATH, guidance and counselling units, and deans of discipline. Further to that is robust oversight by the National Education Inspectorate and education officers.
It must be noted as well that the rule does not foster sustainable academic achievement because a student is required to qualify in the term before competition. It, therefore, means that if a student gets his scores in June 2016, he qualifies himself to play Manning Cup football in the Christmas term following. What is the guarantee then that he will put in any sustained effort to achieve academic success during the season? And will potential 90 per cent performers be satisfied with getting 45 per cent since that qualifies him to participate?
The time is right for ISSA to abolish this rule so that no level of discrimination is allowed in the system and cohorts of students can access all that is provided for them throughout their school life.