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The British style 'dumpling' - Part 2

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Ruel Reid, chairman of the National Council on Education and principal of Jamaica College

Help for students with special needs

Ruel Reid, Contributor

AS A country, we have high expectations for all of our students. After all, this is reflected in the philosophy emerging from the Ministry of Education: 'Every Child Can Learn: Every Child Must Learn'. As a consequence, we have a moral obligation to provide equal opportunity for all our students, including those with special needs. Hence, based on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) experience, the following proposal is submitted for serious consideration.

For students with learning difficulties, an injury/repetitive strain injury or a disability, there is help offered in the following ways:

Extra time depending on the severity of injury or learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

An amanuensis (somebody - normally a teacher - types or writes by hand as the student dictates; this is normally used when the student cannot write due to an injury or disability).

A word processor (without any spellchecking tools) can be used by students who have trouble writing legibly or who are unable to write quickly enough to complete the exam.

A different format exam paper (large print, Braille, printed on coloured paper, etc). A 'reader' (a teacher/exam invigilator can read out the words written on the exam, but they cannot explain their meaning.

A different room (sometimes due to a disability a student can be placed in a room by himself, this also happens when an amanuensis is used, so not to disturb the other candidates.

There are other forms of help available, but these are the most commonly used.

Critique of theBritish system

While I appreciate some of the more recent changes to the GCSE exams in Britain, I don't think the model has changed much. They still end high school at age 16 while most Organisation for Economic Coopera-tion and Development countries go up to grade 12. We need a superior model that works for the Caribbean and Jamaica in particular. For us, we need a strong early-childhood system and extend the school-leaving age to 18 and also ensure all our students have the capacity to pursue lifelong learning, that is, being able to complete tertiary certification.

Note, Trinidad has focused on building university graduates in engineering and technology. This is consistent with the economic structure of the society which is dependent on engineering and technology for their petro-chemical and manufacturing industries. However, in Jamaica we tend to graduate most of our students in the social sciences and humanities. At the lower level, we do a lot of training in hospitality. But if we want to transition into technology and engineering, such as agro-processing, green energy, aviation and robotics, etc., we have to position our education system to deliver this outcome. Education must be aligned with the national strategic priority.

Have a Dream

Let's be ambitious! Based on our Caribbean history, we should aim to develop an education system which is superior to that of our competitors. That is why I have never believed that the modernisation theory or the Washington Consensus is the perfect development model. As a pragmatist, I much prefer a hybrid approach.

We need to take the best of all economic development models and create a hybrid approach with a good balance between private sector and government participation in economic sector develop-ment while not repeating their weaknesses and mistakes. The models used by the Asian Tigers represent a more prag-matic approach to econo-mic development.

So let us dream of a Jamaican and Caribbean education system that can rival the Chinese and Singaporean economies. Let us dream of an educa-tion system that engenders the creation of entrepreneurial graduates, with strong morals and ethical values and commitment to the recon-struction of the economies of the region to ensure that there are equal opportunities and social justice for all. Let our education system rekindle the nationalistic fervour of the 1950s and 1960s that advocated for true liberation of our people, putting the country first every time above party loyalty.

I challenge our current politicians and leaders in every sector of Jamaica to make this vision possible as a legacy to bequeath to our children and their children's children.

Ruel Reid is chairman of the National Council on Education and principal of Jamaica College, St Andrew. Feedback may be sent to columns@gleanerjm.com.