EDITORIAL - Lessons from the track in classroom education

Published: Sunday | August 19, 2012 Comments 0

As outstanding as Jamaica's 12-medal haul at the London Olympics may have been, it understates the achievements of our athletes at these Games.

For instance, on the track, Jamaica had 14 finalists in individual sprint events, in addition to our medal-winning performances in the 4x100m men's and women's relay and the 4x400m for women. In swimming, Alia Atkinson was fourth in the 100m breaststroke for women, while Dorian Scott was a finalist in the shot put for men.

But more than these outcomes was the broader influence of our athletes, beyond their natural infectiousness, on the Olympics. None was there out of someone's benevolence. All were competitive, underlining Jamaica's standing as a global athletics power.

How could a small country of fewer than three million produce so many actual, and potential, world-beaters?

This is no fluke. It is the outcome of hard work and commitment on the part of Jamaica's athletes, organised effort and technical input from highly skilled coaches and competent administrators.

Significantly, the system continues, it seems, to get better. That doesn't mean that a Jamaican will always win, but that Jamaica is capable of maintaining, and expanding, its pool of internationally competitive athletes.

In this regard, Jamaican athletics, perhaps, has lessons for other sectors of the society, including education, whose shambolic situation was highlighted by a collapse in our students' performance at maths and English at the secondary level. Of the students who wrote English at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams, 46.2 per cent gained acceptable grades, against 63.9 per cent in 2011. In maths, 31.7 per cent 'passed', worse than the 33.2 per cent of the previous. Bear in mind that doubtful teachers screen 40 per cent of the cohort - around 20,000 students - out of the CSEC exams.

Capacity for excellence

Athletics' first drill would probably be that the capacity for excellence is constrained neither by size and geography, nor immediate circumstance. Of this, the education minister, Ronald Thwaites, seems to have an intellectual appreciation. "We are too accustomed to mediocrity, and this has to change," he said.

What the minister has done is signal a clear route to improvement.

We suggest a starting point to Mr Thwaites.

It begins with an end to the minister's preachy commiserations with failure; that seeming invitation to ritual embraces and cry-ins between the education authorities and teachers. Plant flowers and call failing schools something else. We say, leave that option to retreats with gurus.

The point is that competently coaching track athletes demands a complex set of skills which many Jamaican coaches have mastered, as is apparent each year at the national Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships and at international games such as the Olympics.

Indeed, outcomes in athletics are transparent, and rewards, most often, performance-based. You can track an athlete's running times and jumps and a specific coach's influence on these. Athletes and coaches can be held accountable.

Mr Thwaites must identify the accountability factors he will introduce in the education system and when and what will be done to lift the low level of competence among maths and English teachers. Moaning is not enough.

By the way, there is probably something to the fact physical education and sports had the best result at CSEC - 98.2 per cent.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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