Shift system cripples western schools
The Government's plan to banish the double-shift system from the Jamaican schools cannot come too soon for some western Jamaica-based school administrators, who think it is quite burdensome, if not totally counterproductive.
Leighton Johnson, the principal of Muschett Comprehensive High School in Wakefield, Trelawny, and Clyde Evans, his counterpart at Petersfield High School in Westmoreland, both say the shift system, which was instituted by the Government in the 1970s to counter overcrowding in schools, is negatively impacting several school functions, including extra-curricular activities.
"In the shift system, there is little or no time for recovery .... you are constantly in a rush, and if you miss a session, there is absolutely no way of recovering it for that day," said Johnson, whose students currently attend school on the morning shift from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., and on the evening shift from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
"The shift system does not allow the school to properly host school functions, on the premise that one shift is always at a disadvantage," continued Johnson. "When you compare the contact time between the shift school and the 'whole day' school, our students get approximately four hours and 15 minutes of contact time each day. In comparison, students of the 'whole day' school will get in excess of five and sometimes six hours and 30 minutes of contact time."
For Evans, the main challenge is the limited scope for the school to have properly structured co-curricular activities because all the students are not at school at the same time. Additionally, it makes activities like evening classes difficult to handle.
"It impacts the school's ability to participate in various co-curricular activities ... we find it difficult to offer evening classes because the only time classrooms become available is after 5 p.m.," said Evans. "It is a similar thing when we try to have the students involved in various clubs and activities, as the time and available space are a challenge."
The two principals also pointed to the critical issue of security as, according to them, students on the morning shift often have to leave home before daybreak to get to school on time, while those on the evening shift sometimes don't reach home until after nightfall.
"In terms of the safety and security of the students at Muschett, they have to leave their homes at 5 a.m., and some say 4:30 in the mornings, just to get here at 7 a.m., and it is not safe," said Johnson. "We lost a young lady in 2014 (13-year-old student Alicia Brown), who was kidnapped and brutally murdered after she left home shortly after five in the morning to get to school for the morning shift."
Insofar as the situation at Petersfield High School is concerned, Evans said some of the students live far away from the school and, as a consequence, they have to leave home before daybreak to arrive at school on time.
"Students are coming from areas where they have to be out during the dark to get transportation, or in going home, they get home when it is night," said Evans. "Where some of them live is extremely dangerous, so it is quite a challenge."
Both principals are suggesting that the Government should speed up its timetable for the abolition of the double-shift system so that they can quickly get into the preferred single-shift arrangement.
"It is a system that has outlived its time," said Johnson. "I think we are doing the students a great disservice, and it is time that some deliberate attempt is made to fully eradicate the shift system and give these students a fighting chance."