By Peter Espeut
Finally, the idea that recruiting in high-school sports is an aberration is gaining some traction. Our present minister of education is the first politician to come out against it, so maybe it will finally be brought under control.
But I doubt it; he stands almost alone. If people don't see that something is wrong, they won't take a stand against it. I think many Jamaicans don't see a clear victim here; all they see are poor rural and ghetto kids who can run fast or kick a ball, getting into high schools they could never enter on academic grounds, and generally people like to see the little guy get ahead, by whatever means.
And then those past students who want more bragging opportunities get into the act, offering inducements to promising athletes and other sportsmen and women. Apologists for this system deny that they are buying, claiming that it is the parents who are selling. I don't know how any intelligent person could seek to exonerate himself with this argument. It would be like the corrupt traffic policeman claiming innocence of taking bribes, on the grounds that motorists keep offering them. Clearly, it takes two to tango.
So who are the victims in this system? Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham has been on a campaign to convince us that the victims are the kids who could get into high school on the basis of their GSAT scores, but whose places are being taken by intellectually inferior sports jocks. He is right, of course; but this is not the whole story, as I will explain.
Before that, I always wonder: How do the importing schools get away with it? Every year, students from primary, preparatory and all-age schools are placed in high schools by the Ministry of Education based on their scores in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Ninety-five per cent of each high school's intake is sent to them by the ministry, and the school's administration has the authority to admit only five per cent of the intake.
In a school of about 1,200 students with a sixth form, that would correspond to a first-form intake of about 200 students; 190 would be sent by the ministry, and each year the principal has the discretion to accept only about 10 students. These places would usually go to children of teachers, past students and donors to the school. With football, cricket and track teams to recruit, the five per cent route does not seem to provide enough scope.
Are principals understating their capacity to the ministry, reserving space for their sport importees off the top? Is it that after the 95 per cent comes from the ministry, and the five per cent are selected from the alumni, extra desks and chairs are still found for the ballers and track stars? Or is it that the higher grades have larger classes? If so, there is more space than officially stated. Is there corruption in the education system?
Let us say that I am the parent of a promising athlete, and I go to the principal of a brand-name school and offer my child for sale, the answer I am supposed to get is, "There is no room in the inn; all the spaces are filled." The argument that we are not buying but that it is the parents who are selling is disingenuous, at best. But I digress.
VICTIMS OF THE MARKET
Yes, those promising young people who might have got in to high school based on their academic performance are victims of the market for athletes. They will be forced to go to secondary schools of lower standard in terms of science labs, for example, and (if you pardon the pun) much less of a track record and a culture of academic achievement.
But what of the large numbers of young people who get a high-school place based on their GSAT scores: aren't they victims of the system too?
Education is not just about academics, although that is a main factor. When a school is sent a cohort of new students, the task of the teachers and administrators is to develop and realise their full potential, including their athletic abilities. The focus must be to recognise and hone the skills of the students you have.
A school must be judged on its ability to convert bauxite into alumina, and alumina into aluminium, not on its ability to buy ready-made aluminium off the shelf, ready to use. That is not fair to the bauxite students who have a right to be developed into aluminium, but are left undeveloped when ready-made aluminium is bought.
We really know how to underdevelop our natural resources.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.