THE IDEA of 'failing schools' is a serious one, especially in a nation in which money is in short supply. Tremendous sums are spent on schools and so it is something to which we must give a great deal of thought.
To deem a school as 'failing' is to suggest that the money spent on it is being wasted and that the thousands of children who have attended that school in recent years have been short-changed by the system. Parents sent children to these institutions to be educated, that is, to be made fit to live and to earn a living in the society into which they have been 'graduated'. If a school has been failing, it suggests that the state has condemned its recent graduates to an inferior life and, as a consequence, a lower standard of living.
But to adjudge a school as failing is not a simple statistical exercise. There are those who will examine the results of the GSAT exami-nations and, if over a period, none of the graduates of a particular primary school are awarded places at any of the 'first choice' secondary institutions, then that is an indication that it may be a 'failing' school
For secondary institutions, the important statistic would be the number of 'passes' its students receive at the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) exams. But those 'in the know' are aware that schools are not established simply to churn out young people with CXC passes. There are other concerns which are of importance. So we look at how much a school does to enhance its charges' personal and social development. This is achieved mainly through participation in co-curricula activities, especially through service clubs and through groups like the cadets, guides and Brownies, through music, debating, drama and dance, through environment and Key Clubs and through sports and games.
But most people will tell you that, in the long run, it is the production of those examination passes that are the only truly important thing. It could be CXC, or the vocational exams, if the students of a school did not do well in these, the school was failing them. This kind of thinking is exacerbated by the utterances of some education ministry officials, although there are a number of programmes operated by the ministry which suggest that other outcomes are important. There is, for example, JAMVAT which stresses the development of positive attitudes and values, the Citizenship Education Programme and the Culture in Education Programme. But the idea that 'schools must get children to pass exams and everything else is but gravy' still holds firm sway.
I admit that, as a teacher, I placed great emphasis on this idea but I have for some time been 'haunted' by two facts.
One is that some time ago a colleague and I were discussing a class at an 'upgraded' secondary school of which he had been form teacher. He had had high hopes for these students as they were sincere, genuine kids who tried their best to do well. He had encouraged them to participate in enhancement programmes and I had helped with this. But, in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams, only two of them got passes in four subjects, a couple more had got three while most had only 'qualified' in one or two. A few of the weakest had obtained no passes at all.
A few weeks before our conversation took place, he had met a few of them at a school function. They had returned to see 'how the new kids were doing'. He was pleasantly surprised when he was told that all but three of the batch were employed, some self-employed. Of the three unemployed, one had migrated and one girl was pregnant. They were all still positive about themselves, determined to make something of their lives. Whatever their occupations, be it pumping gas, cooking in a small restaurant, cashiering, selling in a store, market higglering, taxi driving, bus conducting, they were happy and ambitious and 'good citizens'. None had become gangsters, none go-go dancers, touts or beggars.
And, we mused, 'Dudus' had graduated from a traditional high school with more passes than any of them and had become the 'president'!
Keith Noel is an educator. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org