By Keith Noel
The back-to-school flurry has now abated and things are back to normal. What a pity!
Every year, during this period, a number of people raise crucial issues and voice critical concerns, but by October, things settle down, everything goes back to normal, and these remain largely unaddressed.
The problem period begins with the release of the Grade Six Achievement Test results. Every year, there is much lamentation and anger when persons realise that children are not placed at their school of choice. I am always amazed at what people who are supposed to be in the know say when they discuss the responses of these parents.
Their statements often reinforce the ideas that traditional high schools are, by nature, 'better' than 'upgraded' high schools, and that sending a child to one of these 'inferior' schools is to condemn him or her to an inferior education. The general feeling is that these schools are ill-equipped, staffed with second-rate teachers, and are poorly managed.
This is patently untrue. In many cases, the only real advantages that the 'traditional' schools have are a vibrant past students' association which assists the school, and a more vibrant parent-teacher association. They're more vibrant because the parents are so pleased that their children have 'made it' into these prestigious institutions.
And then there is the fact that in these 'other' schools, many of the students consider themselves 'failures' because the society, and often their parents, see them as such because they have been unsuccessful in their efforts to be placed in a 'good' school. These children often become demotivated, and the failure mentality becomes self-fulfilling.
The nature of the placement of students has resulted in those who are academic high achievers ending up in the 'traditional' schools, and those with lower scores in the newer schools. This has the obvious result of the 'traditional' schools getting 'better' results in the more publicised subjects in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams five years later.
This is, unreasonably, taken as 'proof' that they are 'better' schools. People often ignore the fact that some of the 'less-good' schools have wonderful records of achievement in taking weaker students and bringing them up to par, or more important, in equipping them with vocational skills that prepare them for solid employment and for making progress in the world.
After this first brouhaha come the CXC results, with its attendant lamentation of 'poor' results. Interestingly, in our society, 'poor' results mean low levels of passes in English, math and, to a lesser extent, the sciences. No one wants to hear about a school's results in agricultural science, food and nutrition, art, technical drawing, physical education, theatre arts, woodwork, auto mechanics, machine shop and welding, and clothing and textiles.
It seems as if we have decided that we do not care if our young people become good farmers, chefs, builders, architects, coaches, mechanics, fashion designers, or theatre personnel! We still are locked into the doctor-lawyer syndrome.
It is, of course, very important for students to be made proficient in English and math, but are we not wearing horses' blinkers when we ignore a school's achievements in these other areas when assessing its performance?
But this brings us to the concern about English and math. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites' revelation that only a small percentage of those who teach math are indeed qualified to do so is an eye-opener. It has always been our habit to blame teachers for poor performance. So there you have it. Teachers are given an assignment for which they are not properly trained, and then the finger is pointed at them when they do not perform well. Talk bout basket to carry water!
But I want to suggest to the minister that the situation with English may be just as bad! Despite all of the work of our linguists, we are still not even convinced of the best ways in which we should even teach the subject.
There are stakeholders in education who still insist that the acceptance of Patwa as a legitimate and acceptable language will mean that our students will never be able to master Standard Jamaican English.
Dis haffi change. Until den, we cyaan do betta.
Keith Noel is an educator. Email feedback to email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org.