Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Mark Wignall | No easy fix to education in Jamaica

Published:Thursday | June 1, 2017 | 6:00 AM

Twenty-one-year-old Celia had thought that once she returned home from her university break in the spring, she would be spending more time with her friends on similar missions than family.

Now she finds endless joy travelling to places with her mother. A student of Immaculate, she attends university in a midwest state of the USA and has recently made the dean's list. Prior to that she was made resident assistant, which means she gets to be mediator and general problem solver among the students on her block. In tangible terms, it frees her from costs for meals and board, a significant help.

"My mother has helped so she is funding my studies without a student loan, which means than once I take my design degree, I begin to pay her back for the total love she has shown me."

She laughs and adds, "That is, if I don't get married and ruin everything." She brushes it aside. "No marriage for me now. Want to head for California after graduation."

 

JEFF, A RECENT GSAT STUDENT

 

I met Jeff a month ago on the very day he did his last Grade Six Assessment Test (GSAT) paper. After his mother had introduced the 10-year-old to me, I saw the possibilities in his eyes, the way he responded to my greeting.

"So, how have you done?" I asked.

"OK," he said, then added, "More than OK."

Now whenever I see him we do a fist bump to indicate that we are 'idrins'. Jeff anxiously awaits the results. One of two basic fates awaits him. If he has done exceptionally well he will be placed in one of the 'brand name' schools. If he has numbed out, that is, score horribly low like in the 20-30 per cent, he will be placed in a school which will give him and his mother long nightmares.

Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham, once a top athlete, has been the sole town crier for a few years now expounding on the basic wrongs associated with the practice of brand name schools with a long history of success in their well-developed sports programme poaching student athletes from lesser know schools, thus depriving those schools of even a little sporting glory.

 

DETERMINING PLACEMENT

 

But, in a recent Gleaner column, he touched upon a point preceding the entrant of the child into the high-school system. In his article of May 27, 'Sports for students, not students for sports', he states, "Given that the main factor in determining placement in high school is how one performs in GSAT, it means that students who do very well are sent to certain high schools and those who do poorly, for whatever reason, are sent to others. GSAT allows us to identify the students who are not at the required academic/technical standard at a given age so that they may be sent to schools where they can be given special attention in an attempt to help raise their standard."

To me, that is a most noble objective and nowhere after that process should the education process be bastardised by the trade in bodies, with the main focus on these student athletes, their sporting development with not much attention paid to building them into well-rounded individuals.

If the concept of GSAT is one where the brighter children get to go to the cream of the crop among the high schools and are automatically prepared over the next five years for university entrance, where is the great example of special and remedial teaching in these no-brand schools?

I am not aware that many good teachers are trying to get a skip in the line to join the faculties of these schools where discipline of the student body is likely to be a negative factor hindering the employment of top-class teachers.

When I asked Dr Graham if it meant that in reality, students who did poorly at GSAT were 'parked' in poor education for the next five years, he said in the plainest possible language:

"We have limited resources. Wherever there is scarcity, there are going to be persons who deserve the commodity but just cannot get it because it is finished. There is no more."

A politician would want to sugar-coat it.

observemark@gmail.com