Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
National hero would be proud of Marcus Garvey Technical
If National Hero Marcus Garvey were alive today, he probably would have been proud of the school named in his honour, in at least one aspect.
Despite being branded a failing school by a former education minister, Marcus Garvey Technical High School (MGTHS) in St Ann's Bay, St Ann, can proudly boast of being a self-reliant institution, to a certain degree.
Garvey, in his teachings, advocated self-reliance as the way forward for people of African ancestry.
"The school is able to sustain itself based on the size of our population and the good stewardship of resources and things like that," principal Leslie Riley told The Gleaner.
"For example, last year, we completed a four-classroom block using our own resources of $14.8 million, with no Government help."
From its own resources, the school is also able to prepare its football, cricket and netball teams for inter-school competitions.
The school's agricultural department also does some amount of tutorial farming, which includes the rearing of chickens, rabbits, bees and pigs, along with the cultivation of cash crops.
However, praedial thieves have been rampant and the school suffers as a result. Nevertheless, the school has been managing to sell some pigs to the community and supermarkets, and chicken to the school canteen.
"So when we talk about resources, it's not that we're so desperate either. When you have a school population as big as ours (2,480 students), you really are able to amass financial resources because the canteen and the tuck shop are a captured market," said Riley. "Also, there are vendors who have to pay us to use the facility, so we do sustain ourselves."
There is virtually no support of any kind coming from the past students' association or parent-teacher association, or even the business community.
"The business community doesn't really support us. You would have expected that the business community would want to play a vibrant role in the school, but it's not so," Riley disclosed.
The 2011-2012 academic year ended with 2,480 students on roll and the school struggling to cope with the failing-school tag and, indeed, seeking ways to shrug it off.
It would be an eventful summer.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites had publicly pledged to work with schools that have been labelled failing, in order to improve their academic outcomes.
Labelled failing because of poor results in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations and indiscipline among students over the years, one of MGTHS's greatest challenges is lack of sufficient space, which has forced the adoption of the shift system.
Said Riley: "Given the population of the school, space is naturally a problem. You want them (students) to have a good education, good exposure to all the clubs and societies and extra-curricular activities, but based on the shift system, you're really not in a position to offer those extra-curricular activities as you would have liked."
The shift system, with five-hour shifts, also meant less teacher-student contact hours.
In early July, Riley told The Gleaner that the school had acquired a new building in Mansfield Heights, formerly occupied by students of Steer Town Academy.
OVERCOMING SHIFT CHALLENGE
The new campus will house the school's first- and second-formers as of September, numbering around 860, which is approximately one-third of the school population. The move paves the way for the school to abandon the shift system, thus allowing more teacher-student contact hours, a recipe for increased learning.
It also means that the younger students, especially the first-formers, would be insulated from ragging by the older students.
So one of the main stumbling blocks, the shift system, has been removed and Riley is thankful.
"It is a welcome opportunity for us to come off the shift system, which has really, really been compromising our education programme for a sustained period," the principal said.
The quality of students being sent to MGTHS also determines the academic performance and their output in the CSEC exams. With students with better passes in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) being placed in the traditional high-school system, schools such as MGTHS get students with the lower marks.
"We now have the challenge to build upon the deficit that they would have come here with, and that is where our major challenge is sometimes and we do not have the remedial resources to deal with them effectively," Riley observed.
This year, the school did not receive any student from the Grade Nine Achievement Test, those students who would not have been placed by the GSAT three years earlier.
Over time, given the tools, Riley expects to see an improved academic performance from the student body.
A section of the school.
The shift system has really been compromising our education for a sustained period.