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What about the failing schools?

Published:Wednesday | May 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Contributor

IT WAS simply fascinating to hear a young Kingston mother relate her manoeuvrings over the past week to ensure her child gets enrolled in a good school come September 2010. She had to jump out of bed at 3 a.m., get dressed and find transportation at that ungodly hour to get to the school.

When she got there she was blown away to learn that others had been in line since 2 a.m. The process includes getting the child's name on a list, prior to sitting an admission test. We are talking about six-year-old children. She had to repeat this exercise about three more times hedging her bets as they say, for she is not sure which one, if any of the targeted schools, will have a place for her son.

This is the harsh reality of low-income families. Many of them cannot afford to send their children to private schools but they nonetheless want their children to get a good education so they can become successful adults. Traditionally, Jamaicans have held education in high esteem. Small communities have revered youngsters who have excelled in school. It was not uncommon while growing up in rural Jamaica to hear older folk refer to a child as 'Mass Peter' or 'Miss Christine' indicating a deep respect for what these students had accomplished.

Difficulty in finding a school

Today's mothers are well aware that choice of school is the most effective way to give their children that chance. But choice is in short supply when it comes to finding a school. Ill-equipped, unsafe and strangled by high pupil-teacher ratio, a majority of the public schools are failing to meet national standards of learning. Recent results of the Grade Four Numeracy Test indicate that until we fix the problems in the schools, scores of our youth will remain trapped at the margins of society and will become willing recruits for the gangsters who know only to create mayhem. It's not a subject which the Jamaica Teachers' Association or the Ministry of Education likes to talk about.

However, these mothers do not need any survey to tell them that their sons and daughters have a better chance at education if they attend schools that are staffed with teachers who will provide them with the motivation, academic excellence and mentoring that are so vital to education. As far as primary schools go, there are not many that are highly regarded.

The mother with whom I have spoken has earmarked three Corporate Area schools because of their track record. They produce good results, they offer students a relatively safe environment and the pupil-teacher ratio is such that the child has a better chance at learning.

Lack of leadership

In the debate about why some schools are failing, there are various arguments. First, is the lack of leadership. Where there is strong leadership, both teachers and students are motivated to produce good results. Where there is strong leadership, the school administration will not tolerate teachers who are full-time students and treat teaching as an aside. Where there is strong leadership resources are found to ensure that the environment will stimulate learning.

The attitude of communities is also another key factor. Failing communities also contribute to failing schools. If vandals continue to rip apart school property and steal resources then education suffers. Families and children with poor attitudes and no desire to learn also contribute to an environment that does not value education.

There is an urgent imperative to transform these failing schools for it is really our only hope.

Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.