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Rejecting sports prowess as requirement for high school

Published:Sunday | April 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Lascelve Graham, Contributor

IN THE Sunday Gleaner of March 25, Dr Peter-John Gordon put forward reasons in support of importation of youngsters into high schools, based on their sporting prowess. More open discussion is welcome because it is important to bring to the fore this practice which results in educational and social ills that, by far, outweigh any reported gains. Space does not allow for a fulsome reply, but I will respond to a few of the more relevant statements in the article.

Dr Gordon refers to high school as an artificial distinction which is not always appropriate. Does this suggest that this artificial distinction is sometimes-appropriate? This is perhaps why we have different levels in all education systems in the world. Is this why we have experts in early-childhood education as distinct from those in other segments of the education system? Is the way we teach at the tertiary level the same as at the pre-school level? It is clear to most that the distinction between high school and other levels in the education system is reasonable. Most would agree that the term 'age appropriate' is relevant in education, hence varying levels of schools. In the United States of America (USA), up to high-school level, one is required, except in exceptional circumstances, to attend public school based on geographic location. This is, in fact, an example of a most extreme univariable form of sorting which Dr Gordon rails against with respect to our system. Even the cradle, the seat, the Mecca of importation for sports, the USA, makes this distinction. Recruiting is discouraged until after high school.

As recently as Monday, March 19, the official statement was that placement in the GSAT is by computer and based on preference and performance, and there was a pronouncement by the minister of education that the 20 or so brand name schools will not be able to take all the youngsters who get high marks - just no space. The minister, or other officials, did not declare to the nervous, fearful, stressed-out youngsters, that there is the sports option to qualify, and that all who did not make it by way of GSAT would be given the opportunity to be assessed for sports potential so that they could gain entry to the schools of their choice. Yet, others with low marks, very low marks, or no marks, will find space in our most favoured high schools as sports importees.

It is dishonest and wrong to take a non-qualifier for one of the limited spaces in a given high school, displace a qualifier, and then pronounce the act as some kind of social intervention to benefit the under-privileged. The youngster imported for sports is oftentimes the neighbour of the one unfairly kept out. Perhaps, the unfortunate youngster has the potential to be much more brilliant at sports than the importee, but in order to gain a place his emphasis was academics not sports. Many youngsters do no formal, organised sport until high school. I am one example and I became one of the brightest stars of schoolboy football.

Limited space

Jamaica has limited academic resources. High schools are specialised academic institutions. That is their core function. Space at particular high schools is limited. The objective is to find the group that would best benefit from being given access to that limited academic resource. If that assignment is not to be made on the basis of an examination (or some other proxy of academic ability) on what basis should we decide on the group of students that would best make use of the limited educational resources that we have? Our education system is underpinned by a competitive academic philosophy. A competitive education system underpinned by an academic philosophy is a key factor driving the record growth of the knowledge economies of South Korea, China, Singapore and many European countries. One needs to get the best marks to go to the best high schools. These countries endeavour to get their brightest minds into their best high schools. We, apparently, are determined to sabotage that effort in Jamaica. There are other successful countries using other factors for placement in their high schools. Whatever the chosen system, all children are judged for entry using the same criteria, apart from exceptional cases which are few and far between. The relevant authorities zealously guard the integrity of their systems. We can choose any system we think best, but we must maintain the integrity of that system. We need to work with and develop the talents of the children that system places in our schools, and implement whole-child education where a child is helped to develop all the intelligence - artistic, dramatic, musical, sports etc. Our high schools are not sports academies.

According to Dr Gordon, "we allow some amount of discretion". This is the conduit used for corruption. The core of the matter is how this discretion is exercised. This is how the unethical practices are introduced and sustained. This is the mechanism for introducing the double standard. This is how injustice and corruption are institutionalised. Why would the principal of a renowned high school which imports heavily, on public radio, deny importation, knowing that many, including students know the truth, if as Dr Gordon suggests everything is above board?

We need to remember that only the school can import. Whether students and parents can exercise their preferences should depend on whether the students meet or excel the stated guidelines for admission and achieve high GSAT scores.

win-at-all-cost approach

The diversity argument is clearly a camouflage for the premise that the end justifies the means and the win-at-all-cost approach. Our favoured schools, where importation is heaviest, have no problem with diversity. Academics and other talents (singing, sports, etc.) are not mutually exclusive, and schools can have very good sports programmes and meaningful inter-schools competitions without importing.

Importation denies the origin school the success it would have enjoyed had the youngster(s) not been snatched. This makes it more difficult for the origin school to build its sports and education programmes and to enjoy, as Dr Gordon puts it, "the additional resources which the school might be able to garner and, therefore, increase its ability to educate more students in the future". Importation unfairly shifts the benefits of the youngsters' success from the original schools to the importing schools. This serves, among other things, to demotivate students (also of the importer, who are replaced on the team by the recruits), coaches and communities of the origin schools. Consider the many benefits Usain Bolt and other stars have brought to their 'little' schools, communities and Jamaica by staying at their original schools. The relatively few favoured schools cannot educate all our children and, hence, we must endeavour to strengthen all our 'little' schools. Taking away their sports stars is not a step in the right direction.

Importing for sports sends the wrong messages to our youngsters - win-at-all-cost, the end justifies the means, beat the system, "a no nutten", among others. It saps the confidence of our students. They learn to live with institutionalised injustice. Corruption and injustice thus become a way of life, a daily cry in Jamaica.

"High schools must seek to educate those under their charge as best as possible," Dr Gordon urges. And so say all of us.

Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham. is the former St Georges College, All-Manning, All-Schools and Jamaica football captain.