The onrush of transfer requests to traditional high schools, as reported by this newspaper, gives a clear indication that parents are still not convinced that their children's education is in safe hands when they are placed in institutions of less renown.
This response also gives a clear indication that the exhortation of Education Minister Ronald Thwaites for students to "grow where they are planted" has been largely rejected. Changing age-old perceptions is not an easy thing to do, and there may be justification for this reaction by parents.
So it seems something else needs to be done to prevent this annual angst affecting parents as they seek to find the best educational options for their children. For many parents, expensive private-school options are not feasible, so it is to the public-school system that they must look for solutions.
In the great debate about education, there are three important factors that contribute to the quality of one's education. The first relates to the student's ambition, motivation and dedication; then there is the matter of parental support and involvement; and third, the existence of quality teachers and effective leadership.
Why do some schools perform at a consistently high level while others do not? And why has it taken so long for the non-traditional schools to lift their performance levels? Certainly, for these schools, which are often based in economically challenged areas, only exceptional performance will erase the negative image that lingers. And good performance means success in helping students fulfil their potential, whether it means moving into higher education or pursuing their dream job after graduation.
Dire need for transformation policy
The Ministry of Education cannot do much about the first two; however, it seems that important timetables should be set for turning these schools around. There has to be a deliberate policy that will dictate that the Government pour greater resources into the non-traditional schools, equipping them with modern teaching tools and providing an environment in which better-than-average teachers will be motivated to give of their best.
Another scenario that needs to be introduced in the discussion is the concept of homeschooling. There are indications that it may already exist in an unstructured way in Jamaica, although there is no active encouragement from the Ministry of Education.
However, in many countries, homeschooling is growing in popularity. Although the practice is usually adopted mostly for philosophical or religious reasons, it is fast becoming an alternative for parents who are not happy about the placement of their children. Children with special needs are often homeschooled, as well as sometimes using the services of retired teachers or specialist tutors.
Turning around the performance of non-traditional schools within the shortest possible time should be part of an overall strategy for improving the standard of education in the country. It is a strategy that both the Jamaica Teachers' Association and the Ministry of Education should set about designing. This may involve replacing some principals and teaching staff and setting them new targets for transforming these institutions.
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