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Letter of the Day | Classism in schools

Published:Tuesday | May 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM


It is an uncomfortable truth that the cultural landscape of education in Jamaica is embedded in classism and elitism. Over the past 50 years, the school system has been a reinvention of the colonial structures that were first established to provide a classical education for the elites who had financial difficulties returning to England to study.

The country has made significant strides in mobilising the social classes through access to education at every level in comparison to 50 years ago. While these are admirable accomplishments, the country still reels from the residual effects of colonised education that has segregated the standard of education offered to members of the elite class and members of the poorer classes.

This construct of 'good school' and 'bad school' has become a social norm within the Jamaican education system as the society embraces the colonial classification of schools and has prepared itself to be functional in a system of inequity and segregation.

A worrying practice in our segregated school system is the dismissal of poor-performing students from traditional high schools, or 'top-performing' schools, in what appears to be an attempt to preserve their brand name and rankings. This concern intensified as I read a Gleaner article published on May 29, 2017 titled 'Youngster fights his way to success'. The article made reference to a young man from Jamaica College who made an about-turn and rescued himself from being kicked out of school because of his low grades. Now while it is commendable that he could reform his behaviour, it did not escape me that he would have been expelled because he had poor grades.

Data from my recently concluded research paper on Classism in the Jamaican Public School System identified two instances where schools have asked parents of underperforming students to transfer them to another school. In one instance, a teacher from a rural traditional high school explained that when the school has exhausted all options to remediate underperformers, parents are asked to seek another institution.




In another instance, one popular primary school in the Portmore area noted for its recent academic prowess issued a notice to parents advising them of the school's policy on underachievers. It reads: "If your child/ward does not meet the required standards of completing projects and homework, your child/ward will NOT be repeated, promoted to the next grade, or participate in the school-leaving exercise.

This practice is outrageous and unethical, especially at the primary level.

As we are all aware, there is a stark contrast between the academic levels of students placed in traditional high schools and those placed in non-traditional schools. Data for my research reveal that, on average, students placed in non-traditional high schools have GSAT scores ranging between 32% and 55%, while those students placed in traditional high schools score between 80% and 100%. Consequently, administrators of non-traditional high schools do not have the option to abscond the task of reforming students' academic performance.

The obvious and blatant discriminatory practices in the school system only serve as a malignant cancer eating away at the opportunities to provide every child, regardless of social class and academic capacities, the chance to benefit from quality education.


BEd, Language Education