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No ban on streaming in schools, gov't launches new intiative to reform high school

Published:Wednesday | March 23, 2016 | 5:37 PMJovan Johnson

Although launching a new initiative - Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education (APSE) geared at serving the needs of all students in high school, the education ministry says that it is not ready to implement a policy banning streaming in schools, which could undermine the new approach.

Widely practised across Jamaica's education system for decades, streaming involves the placement of students in classes based on their academic abilities. The practice has been criticised for sidelining students who may not have displayed the attributes to meet strict academic requirements. It has been supported for ensuring that 'brighter' students are not 'held back'.

Stanford Davis, principal of May Day High in Manchester, says that his school will have to revisit the school's policy in light of APSE's emphasis on catering to all the needs of students in an "inclusive" manner. Innswood High also indicated that its streaming might also be revisited.

However, Ruel Reid, senator and education minister, says that he will not now consider a direct policy mandating the discontinuation of streaming in schools.

Giving teachers tools

"It's a dialogue. What we are giving our teachers are tools that they can use. At the end of the day, the school will have to justify, to the extent that their performance is unsatisfactory, whether they are utilising all the tools that are available. If their model allows them to achieve all the desired objectives, then clearly, if it's not broken, why fix it," he argued yesterday in an interview with The Gleaner.

In the late 1990s, Jamaica dispensed with the comprehensive education model and made technical, vocational, and traditional academics the standard in all secondary schools to cater to the competencies of all students. The new initiative, APSE, is now drawing on the comprehensive concept in the latest response of the Government to continued underperformance at the secondary level.

Reid says that the launch of an initiative mirroring principles of the comprehensive concept advanced in the 1960s by his predecessor, Edwin Allen, shows that what happened in the 1990s should not have taken place.

"In retrospect, that (diluting the comprehensive model) was a bad idea. That's where we're really going back to," he admitted.

In his address at the launch of APSE yesterday, Reid told a wide cross section of education stakeholders that the new approach "will reposition secondary education as inclusive, customised, diverse, relevant, equitable, and outcomes-based".

New strategies needed

"It will, in fact, be a reframing and a repositioning of secondary education in Jamaica," said Reid, who is stressing that the initiative was not suggesting that teachers had failed. However, he acknowledged that unimpressive results over the years, including the graduation of ill-equipped high-school students, meant that new strategies have to applied.

Richard Villa of the United States-based education body Bayridge Consortium, in endorsing the initiative, told The Gleaner that the groundwork for transformation had been laid because of the desire to cater to the needs of all students: "There is a valuing of all the children. It is not denying opportunities," he said.

According to the education ministry, APSE recognises that students function at varying levels and have multiple intelligences. As a result, students entering high school come September will be placed in one of three 'pathways' that will run the normal seven years of high school.

Students will be placed based on their performance in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), and later on, the Primary Exit Profile, which is set to replace GSAT in May 2019.

Subject teachers will provide instruction in the first path while 'pathway coaches' will guide learning in the other two, which will cater to students in need of additional help to boost their performance.