Wed | Apr 8, 2020

Orville Higgins | Why do we attend high school?

Published:Saturday | September 8, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Action from a 2017 daCosta Cup match between Manchester High and Frome Technical in Mandeville.

I was involved in a heated discussion with a teacher friend of mine a few days ago. We were both interested in the news that a popular high school in Kingston was prepared to prevent students from advancing to fifth form if they didn't achieve a 60 per cent average coming out of fourth form. My friend was in complete support of the idea. I was radically opposed to it. We argued about it for maybe two hours. Neither of us would budge an inch. The difference in position in the end came down to one fundamental point. My friend was adamant that the acquisition of academic knowledge was the sole purpose of attending high school, and therefore, a student who is not performing adequately in exams simply didn't belong. I, on the other hand, have always seen it another way. I believe that academic learning is only ONE of the reasons for attending high school. It has been my long-held theory that the other combined reasons for attending high-school institutions are NO LESS IMPORTANT than the learning of academic knowledge.

There are many definitions for what we call education. The one that I feel is most suitable is that 'education' is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and habits. So yes, knowledge and book learning are important, but schools are also there to help instil the values, beliefs, and habits of a society.


Interaction key


A youngster who leaves a high school with ten grade ones but is a complete social misfit and struggles to get along with others would be no better 'schooled' than one with two or three subjects but who gets along with everyone, learns how to interact with rules, and has acquired the social skills to function easily in his society. We go badly astray when we feel doing well in history or geography is more important than learning how to get along in a group, for example.

This is why I have never been in support of the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association's rules that prevent students from taking part in sports if they are not achieving at a certain level in the classroom. The lessons learnt by being in the sporting arena are numerous and must not be downplayed. They are just as vital to the after-high-school life of the average student than learning calculus or the precise dates when Columbus came to the Caribbean.

My other reason for not supporting the turfing-out of youngsters because of poor academic performance is that it has always been clear to me that there is a greater co-relation between home life, and good academic performance than most of us are prepared to believe. If I am going to teach a new crop of youngsters, I can tell with a fair degree of accuracy who will do well and who won't without even meeting them. I can make a fair assessment of the ones who will do well in my class simply by meeting their parents and seeing what home environment they will be operating from. Most of us are aware of this phenomenon in our subconscious thoughts.We instinctively know that the children of certain well heeled people will always do well in school, and conversely we are also well aware of the fact that those students from struggling backgrounds are less likely to do well.

It is hardly schools that make bright students. The very best schools may be able to make a good student better, but a school very rarely transform poor students into Einsteins. By and large, the habits and disciplines and interests that make students excel in high school were developed prior to high school or developed at home. To punish students for not doing well in high school is really to be punishing students for not having a proper home environment. From my experience, I know many students who turn up in the mornings without even proper breakfast, for example. The learning process can be very difficult on a hungry belly!

Those of us who did well academically are sometimes not aware enough of the dynamics that shaped us and are therefore less likely to be sympathetic to the causes of the ones who are struggling. I was raised with a mother who was a teacher, and my propensity to take to books early in life was simply part of the growing-up process.

I could look at other youngsters who didn't have the parental background I had and know if I grew up the way they grew up I would be struggling too. Principals, educators, and the public in general must therefore be careful how quick they are to cast judgement on slow students.


Won't achieve intended goal


Pushing them out of school for non-performance is hardly likely to achieve too much. If we send them to another institution, they are simply going to go somewhere else and struggle! And if they do not go to another institution and stay home, well that is just adding so many more idle and potentially destructive hands to the nation's streets.

Kicking them out of school is not the answer.

That is merely creating another problem in the attempt to solve one. Our academic issues begin, for the most part, at home.

If we address that, then we would have gone a long way to helping students perform better in schools.