Ronald Thwaites | Disclose and done
Why not just release all the papers and numerical scores of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP)? That way, everyone will know exactly how the new standard curriculum is bring received at the primary-school level and how successful the new forms of assessment are proving. How can the ministry, any school, parent or teacher plan without the full data?
Doing so will undoubtedly embarrass some and raise uncomfortable questions in relation to individual grades and high-school placement. But these issues are in the public domain already and will continue to rankle parents and schools.
Stubbornness and obtuse explanations are unworthy of this most important department of government. Reminding the public of when you say you told them of the new way exam results would be presented does not answer the genuine call for full transparency. In education, as in nature, sunlight is the best antiseptic. Since there is no cover-up, just disclose and done.
The war of words between the minister and the Jamaica Teachers’ Association president is not good for confidence in the already-cruel system of education apartheid compounded right now by the unresolved scandals hanging over the said ministry. Once again, saving face is self-delusion, causing irreparable detriment to the thousands of children who, this September, unless remedied right now, will enter high school unable to handle the work.
Then last Tuesday in Parliament, Minister Karl Samuda, answering Dwayne Vaz’s questions about the outrageous downsizing of Nutrition Products Ltd, acknowledged that the breakfast programme in schools has become a casualty of inadequate resources. This has terrible consequences for the nation. Close to half of our children come to school hungry because of poverty, long travels, and empty-calorie school-gate offerings.
Hungry pickney cannot learn! Nor can they wait until lunchtime for the free meal that seems now to be provided mostly, if not exclusively, for students on PATH. Then, too, the lunch subsidy to schools is for four days a week, despite the fact that there is a strong correlation between food availability and absenteeism.
PROGRAMME RUN DOWN
The good news is that Minister Samuda will be pressing for more resources to supplement the School Feeding Programme. We must all support him. But I am still troubled that Nutrition Products, which, by 2015, under the leadership of James Rawle, was making a surplus, reinvesting it in additional production and diversifying its offerings to include more nutritious and locally produced items, has since been run-down.
School nutrition, apart from promoting lifelong health and stimulating agriculture, ensures school attendance, which, in turn, enhances learning, leading to better discipline and improved PEP results. In sum, we must invest our resources where the multiplier effect can be greatest.
Since, even on the basis of the partial disclosure of the PEP results, the need is clear for intensive remedial attention for about two-thirds of those who sat the exam, the plea for resources to help catch up must be repeated. Double the per-capita grant and strengthen the pre- and post-curricular programmes of high schools with weaker students.
Many such institutions can be twinned with traditional schools, thus enhancing branding and sharing teaching, learning and administrative capacities. Technology now allows for virtual, interactive instruction. Church-related schools and those in proximity ought to lead in this endeavour. It won’t cost much money and could remove the stigma still attached to striving schools.
Last, with the ‘graduation’ season soon ending, commendation to those schools that have staged simple, inexpensive and meaningful events accompanied by edifying cultural presentations displaying student talent. Last week, at a Jamaica House function honouring educators, one such item was so banal and tasteless that it left you wondering who could have thought it appropriate. Diversity is good. A lack of standards is not.
And commendation to the managers of St George’s Girls’ School in Kingston – and others – that reportedly cancelled graduation exercises because of the poor behaviour of some students. That school stands for something good, not the papering over of problems and deficiencies with pretty words, bling outfits and glamorous photographs. The nation and its Government should follow such example.
Lesson learnt, I bet they will do better next year.
Ronald Thwaites is opposition spokesperson on education and member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to email@example.com.