Parent-teacher body wants role in policing student transfer policy
One major stakeholder in the education process has indicated that Government failed to engage it at a critical point when decisions were being made to introduce new policy to cauterise the unethical recruitment of students to high schools based on prowess in sports.
President of the National Parent Teachers' Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ), Everton Hannam said while his organisation contributed to early discussion on the matter, the Ministry of Education failed to make formal contact with his association to participate in the crucial decision-making aspects of the talks.
"The president is not aware of any communication that would have been forwarded to involve us in the process," he told The Gleaner yesterday.
In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites outlined a policy framework for the transfer of student athletes which was developed by both the ministry and the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA).
The policy guideline is intended to stamp out what the ministry describes as "the unethical practice of some high schools to recruit students primarily for sporting activities without due consideration for their academic development".
Hannam pointed out that the current system of student transfer had some success stories but also a number of disturbing cases. Describing the practice as poaching, the NPTAJ president said this kind of activity was unacceptable and required some intervention.
According to Hannam the focus at this time should be on how "we can continue to ensure that our schools are really institutions of academic learning".
"We don't want our schools to become sports clubs or football clubs or track clubs," he stressed, but noted that "we should not discriminate against any student who wants to develop his sporting or athletic potential".
He said a wider body including parents as stakeholders should provide oversight instead of just the ministry and ISSA.
During a discussion on the new policy framework on Tuesday, Minister with responsibility for Sport, Natalie Neita Headley revealed that student athletes at the primary and preparatory level who have been doing well are "sought, courted and enticed" to attend particular schools.
She pointed out that in some cases when the students go to the schools that courted them they are unable to fulfill certain expectations and are oftentimes "left by the way, not given any special attention and end up dropping out of school".
Neita Headley said that, based on extensive discussion among all stakeholders, it was recognised that the practice of "buying" student athletes was widespread.
In outlining the policy and responding to questions and concerns from his parliamentary colleagues, Thwaites said: "What we are trying to avoid is the offer for the car or the microwave or the washing machine so that you transfer from one school to the next. What we are seeking to avoid is the compromise of a young person's education on the altar of prowess in sports."
He noted that in instances where transfers are properly arranged and with regard to the academic satisfaction of the student, there would be no objection provided they go through the proper process.
North East Manchester MP Audley Shaw described the policy as discriminatory while South East St Catherine MP Everald Warmington said the move by the ministry was a "government overreach".
"This is a free country and parents and students should have the freedom to transfer to whatever school the student wants to transfer to. We should not be talking about micro managing students and schools but allow the parents and students to determine."
Edmund Bartlett, MP for East Central St James, cautioned against the designation of "student athletes", a phrase, he said, which had resulted in the stigmatisation of students. He said many students who had been transferred under the banner of student athletes at times suffer discrimination.
"The minute you begin to introduce the notion that a principal has to agree with another principal to transfer the student you begin to get in the realm of commoditisation of the student and the education system," he argued.
Derrick Smith, leader of opposition business in the House of Representatives, said the minister had gone too far in his intervention. He said ISSA was capable of dealing with the problem if it existed. It impinges on individual's rights, he added.
As part of the policy, ISSA will establish a clearinghouse by August 1, 2015 where all transferred student/athletes must be approved/cleared before participation in ISSA activities. The clearinghouse will, among other things, examine all documentation related to a transferred student athlete and investigate any discrepancies reported or identified.
Other requirements for transfers
* The transfer of a student for any reason must follow the normal procedures as determined by the Education Regulations (28). Principals of both sending and receiving schools, along with the parent, must sign consent forms before presentation to the Ministry of Education for approval of the request to transfer a student.
In considering the request for transfer of a student athlete the Ministry of Education will review the student's academic record to determine if he/she is able to cope with the curriculum of the receiving school.
* The transfer of students between schools must not involve economic gain to the student, parent or guardian. Scholarship proceeds must approximate the cost of providing and accessing the child's education and not result in profiteering.
* Students' academic advancement must not be compromised by their involvement in sports or any other co-curricular activity. Schools must comply with the current ISSA requirement that a student must attain an 80 per cent attendance record and a minimum
grade of 45 per cent in four subjects during the preceding term to be eligible to participate in an ISSA event.
* ISSA will continue to impose a mandatory one-year wait period, but will add the option of additional waiting periods and/or school bans where there are proven
breaches in the transfer process.