R. Howard Thompson, Guest Columnist
Whenever I write about the need for zoning our schools, as I do very often, there are always a number of people who assume that I am proposing it as a means of achieving social equality or some such nonsense. Those who have read my articles and letters over the years will recognise that I suggest zoning as a means of facilitating the education of students and nothing more.
It is clear that correspondent, John Reader, in his letter on Thursday, November 28, 2013, does not understand what zoning of schools means. In fact, he might be surprised to know that a type of zoning used to be practised in Jamaica years ago when the traditional high schools were almost all boarding schools.
I am quite aware of the fact that our traditional high schools were not built with that in mind and that their locations had to do with the land grants that were given by private endowments.
Nevertheless, there is no reason we should not create a system that encourages and even coerces parents into sending their wards to certain schools. The children from some parts of Portmore, for instance, could be zoned with those in the downtown area and be given a choice among the schools in that area.
There is no need, for instance, to send a child from the inner city all the way up to Immaculate because she got a hundred average in GSAT. She can do as well at Wolmer's Girls, Alpha Academy, Camperdown or any of the major traditional high schools in that area.
We convince ourselves that we are doing a wonderful thing when we do this, but ignore the plight of the child at Cassava Piece who must then go all the way below Cross Roads, or, as in a case I know of, to Oberlin in Lawrence Tavern .
I have suggested that students be offered incentives to go to schools near to them by giving them free education at those schools or at the lower cost. A child living in Mandeville, for instance, would pay very little or nothing to attend a high school in the region, but would be required to pay the full cost of their tuition if they insisted on attending Munro, Hampton, Glenmuir, Campion or Immaculate.
The problem with the present system is that it promotes certain illusions which parents have been sold. The first one is that parents do have a choice as to what schools their children will attend. Most parents do not.
The second one is that some schools are so much better than others, based on the empirical evidence of CSEC results. But this is merely an illusion of what Edward DeBono calls the Archway Effect.
Send the best students to certain schools, and out of them come successful scholars, while other schools which receive inferior students get less-impressive results without there being any way of knowing whether or not the schools did more than act as an archway straddling their passage.
The system becomes self-fulfilling, as parents all flock to get their children into what is perceived as the better school. The best students are then selected for the 'successful school' and continue to get the best results which perpetuates the illusion.
I am totally against moving children around to make some schools perform better. That should not be the purpose behind zoning. I agree entirely with the salient point made by 'Concerned Citizen' in his/her letter that "the public must know that it is not the school that matters. It's the initiative taken up by teachers, parents and students in education".
For this to happen, we must start placing students primarily on the basis of where it is most convenient for this collaborative process to take place, and stop treating them as academic athletes being drafted to win the CSEC trophy. This is the message that zoning would send to parents and students alike.
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