Columns

Another report on the failing schools syndrome

Wayne CAMPBELL

Wednesday, June 18, 2014    

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THE script has become quite familiar and rather expected. It would be an understatement to say all is not well with Jamaica's education system. This notion was recently reinforced by the analysis and findings of the 2013 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results.

According to Educate Jamaica — a leading think thank — 75 per cent of all the secondary schools in Jamaica are underperforming. Correspondingly, only 25 per cent of all post-primary schools in Jamaica are producing graduates capable of passing five or more subjects at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level inclusive of English Language and mathematics. A minimum of five CSEC subjects are required by Jamaican students in order to matriculate into tertiary level studies and/or enter the world of work. Disturbingly, three-quarters of our secondary schools are not able to meet this minimum target.

This is nothing new and has been the case for quite a while as our policymakers scurry to find solutions to tackle and address this crisis of national importance.

Among the top-performing schools we clearly see a trend. All top ten performing schools can be classified as church-schools, and as such it is apparent that there is great involvement of the particular denomination and the operation of their respective school.

Interestingly, seven of the top ten schools are single sex girls' schools with three of the top ten offering boarding facilities. In all probability, the time has come for us to revisit the option of boarding schools. This undoubtedly would provide much-needed structure and discipline to many of our students who are currently not benefiting from such an environment in many of our schools.

Additionally, our boys are more at risk as is evident from the 2013 CSEC results in which no all-boys school was listed among the top-ten performing. As a result, the discourse continues and will intensify regarding the underachievement of our males in the education system.

The Jamaica society is one in which there is an unquenchable fixation with our problems. We do this at our peril. We need to foster and develop a culture of problem-solving instead of merely identifying our solutions. We spend too much time dissecting our problems and too little time trying to find solutions to our problems.

One thing is blindingly clear as we scrutinise the issue of Jamaica's education system: Management is at the root of both failing and top-performing schools.

In order to fix the problem of failing secondary schools we need to take some radical decisions. One of which must be to strengthen the mechanism of accountability within the education system. Of course, there can be no accountability without transparency. The Ministry of Education must strengthen the mechanism in place to monitor all schools, especially those who are deemed as failing.

Let us look for a minute at Robert Lightbourne High School, which has a capacity of 900 students. The principal reports a current population of just under 300 students. Yet, with such a low student population, the school was placed at the bottom of the underperforming schools in the 2013 CSEC examinations. Clearly, such an institution needs the scaffolding of not only the Ministry of Education but all the stakeholders involved in the business of education.

Immaculate Conception High was placed at the top of the best-performing schools; having had all their fifth form cohort passing five or more subjects including mathematics and English language. They are to be commended. However, let us be fair, had the results for Immaculate been otherwise something would have been terribly wrong. Since they receive the best-performing students from the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), some scoring 95 per cent and above in all subjects, they should turn out capable students.

We must find some work together to provide solutions to address this national education crisis. Failure to address this now will see us back here in 10 years' time revisiting this same issue.

Frankly, it may be necessary to revamp the management team of some of those failing schools in order to turn them around. Principals should be on contracts. The buck stops with them as chief operating officer. We must take the necessary steps to rescue our failing schools or else there is no future for Jamaica.

In many failing schools there is an abundance of unease and discord brewing below the surface. In too many instances principals do not have the confidence of their general staff due mainly to their divisive management styles. Undoubtedly, this will and does affect the performance of our schools.

Additionally, we need to take a serious approach to how we constitute our school boards. We must appoint people of impeccable character and requisite educational background. The time to take politics out of the education system is now. Failure to do so will only worsen the failing school syndrome which is spreading like a cancer.

We need Jamaica's private sector to become more involved in the business of education. Our private sector needs to invest more in education. Maybe it would be useful for the private sector to adopt a struggling school. The Government alone cannot turn around or correct the varied problems in the education system.

The community must become more proactive and protect the interest of the schools in their area. The alumni associations must take a serious interest in the operation of their school.

Finally, our parents and guardians must become more involved in their children's education. Parents must monitor homework and make regular checks with the school. Our parents must attend parent-teachers' meeting. Parents must show interest in their children's welfare and development. Poverty is no excuse for not being integrally involved.

It is going to require a collaborative effort from all the stakeholders to fix the education system. Both short and long-term plans will be required to address the ills of our education system. There can be no sustainable development for a country with an education system that is underperforming.

The primary responsibility of the present generation is to fully equip the next generation with the necessary skills set and knowledge to develop citizens to eventually take over the reins of governance in the society.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Comments: waykam@yahoo.com www.wayaine.blogspot.com

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