JAMAICA HAS an uncanny way of discussing old problems and crafting solutions as if they are somehow novel. One most recent example is the glaring problem of low performance of students, despite spending more on education (as a percentage of GDP) than some developed countries.
It is no secret many students are leaving school illiterate. The Ministry of Education hopes to correct this with 60 per cent of secondary school students graduating with at least five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects by 2015. However, current statistics make this goal laughable as less than 50 per cent of students sit fewer than four subjects - less than the minimum required for matriculation to even sixth form. Shouldn't all students sit no less than five subjects, including mathematics and English (the minimum requirement for tertiary institutions)? What is the sense in spending tax dollars on students for five years at the secondary level and denying them an opportunity to advance further?
The educational challenges are, of course, many, and a host of recommendations have been proffered to change this gloomy trajectory. I am concerned that the idea of extending the school year is now being considered to ensure children enjoy their right to quality education. This has overshadowed the recently published Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) Prisms of Possibility: A Report Card on Education in Jamaica, which suggests we will have to wait until 2025 to see at least 60 per cent of students graduating with five subjects.
questions to ponder
Why are nearly half of our students not recommended to sit a minimum of five subjects? Why do wealthier children take up the majority of places in the few 'good' schools? Why do few students from poorer households matriculate to colleges and universities? The nine-day wonder of the CaPRI report has worn off and we quickly moved on to extending the school year. Education will become a hot topic again when GSAT passes are revealed, then resuscitated in September around CSEC math and English low passes. We aren't having the kind of honest conversations about education beyond playing the blame game. What is the efficacy of skirting around the issue? Where in the world was a problem ever solved by ignoring it?
Do children really need to be in school for a few more hours or weeks to guarantee that they leave performing at an acceptable level? It would be pointless to ignore research done by professors Harris Cooper and Ashley Allen of Duke University among others, which shows students' test scores are often better at the beginning of the summer break than at the end. It has also been suggested that the extended school year would be useful for poorer children. I don't doubt these are plausible reasons, but I can only imagine the plight of the student at a shift school in a class of 40 others; the student being taught mathematics by an unqualified teacher; the effeminate male student who is bullied but ignored by his teachers or the student with an intellectual disability who teachers label as dunce. We can't extend the school year without addressing the multiple challenges which also have a deleterious effect on performance.
children under pressure
A colleague from the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition said this, and I am in full agreement:
"I am against extending the school year at this time. Given the pressure many schools put our children under, plus the lack of co-curricular activities, their education is actually stymied. What I would support is cutting teacher vacations to achieve two things: a) two weeks of mandatory professional training for teachers by master teachers, many of whom (but not all) at the secondary level would come from traditional high schools. This also goes for primary-level teachers. Too many training-college graduates go into schools with fresh ideas and approaches and in no time are worn down by unsupportive/jealous/burnt-out older teachers, and get absorbed into the old culture. This will work to raise the quality of all teachers, b) 2 weeks of summer school where children whose parents want this are given a broader educational experience with art, hands-on science activities, music, sports, etc. at no extra cost if at all possible. Some minimal private-sector funding, perhaps organised by region, could support this. "
Every child can learn and be successful, but this is impossible if things remain unchanged. We have to ensure we get value for the 5.3-6.1 per cent of GDP invested in education.
Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.