THERE has been a hue and cry as a number of high schools, through their principals, denounce strongly the recent academic ranking of high schools put out by a group called Educate Jamaica.
It seems there is always an outcry against academic rankings of our schools although the very nature of our placement process ensures our schools are differentiated in this way.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this placement process, especially given the scarcity of quality education in Jamaica. It is used all over the world and increases the probability of exposing our brightest minds, even from the deepest of our inner cities, to our best schools.
Whenever there is scarcity, there is always going to be valid demand, even after the supply is completely exhausted. There is scarcity of quality education in Jamaica. We need to know how our schools are doing. This academic ranking of schools is a reality check. It gives a feel for where we are now educationally. It is something of an educational balance sheet, a snapshot, which a number of countries use not only for high schools but for primary schools and universities. If there needs to be some adjustments in the compilation of the numbers let us do so, but, this gives us a ballpark feeling, a better grasp of how our schools are doing.
Why is it that there is no uproar when all these schools are grouped together to compete in sporting events? There is, in fact, much celebration when the schools are ranked according to performance at Champs and other sports competitions. Is the playing field level there? Do they all have the same resources or goals? When the more prestigious schools "buy", import, recruit based on sports ability, thus robbing the less endowed schools even of the little they have, and unjustifiably preventing another youngster from a space, is that making the playing field more level? Is that fair? Remember only the principals have the authority to grant a child entry to a school. Yet, I am not aware of any great din, objection or furore against this practice, although the ills which it spawns by far outweigh the proclaimed benefits, and it is completely against the spirit and purpose of sports in the educational environment up to the high school level. Our high schools are not sports academies or clubs. The trading serves to professionalise sports in schools and it puts at a clear disadvantage those who endeavour to use sports at the high school level as it should be used -- to foster the whole development of the child who has legitimately qualified to be at the school, whether sports star or sports dud. Is it just coincidence that comparing these ratings with the top three schools in Champs 2013, both boys and girls, there seems to be an almost inverse relationship between success at sports on the one hand, and academic excellence on the other?
It would have been good to have taken into account CSEC results before eleventh grade, although I suspect this is not the experience of the overwhelming majority of students.
Although there may be reasonable complaints against this Educate Jamaica ranking, including grouping so-called secondary high schools, upgraded high schools and technical high schools together, this exercise does provide some useful information and provokes a number of questions. One of the questions is what do we want from our schools? What type of academic/technical pursuit will best outfit our citizens to solve the immense list of problems in our society and the world? How do we best equip our youngsters to soar in this knowledge-based, digital world driven by innovation?
Should we bite the bullet, take our heads out of the sand and officially group our high schools into different tiers, with different goals set for each tier? We must deal with reality as we strive to improve. Should we have more vocational schools? For myriad reasons our children are not at the same academic level come time for high school, and hence the student input to many of our high schools is far below the input to others. Given such, along with economic and other constraints, I wonder if it is reasonable to expect the same academic output from all our high schools. We could perhaps look at two or three tiers with late bloomers being able to move between tiers, if they so desire.
One of the good things about this ranking is that it showcases the schools that are doing well and that have improved academically/technically, since many technical subjects are judged at CSEC level. Campion was ranked the number one school, Wolmer's Girls' number two and St Hilda's High number three. Congrats to them. Congrats also to Wolmer's Boys, the only all-boys' school to be ranked in the top ten. Why aren't two traditional titans, Kingston College and St George's College, numbered in the top twenty schools? One of the things that this exercise has starkly brought to our attention is that there are only 33 non-private high schools, out of the 162 in the ranking, at which a student has a 50 per cent probability or higher of achieving passes in five CSEC subjects including English and/or Mathematics, at one sitting at the end of five years. If this is even near to the truth, then the shadow boxing in education must come to an end. This is disastrous. Five passes in these exams including Math and English are normally the minimum matriculation requirement for higher education or securing a good first job. Congratulations to Denbigh High School, Marymount High, Hampton and the others for being included in this list.
However, it is alarming that not numbered among those on the list are Calabar High School, Titchfield High, Cornwall College, Camperdown High, Rusea's High, St Elizabeth Technical High, Excelsior High, Vere Technical, Holmwood, and Jamaica College among others. It would be good to find out, for example, why is Vere Technical performing so poorly and why Jamaica College, on the basis of the rankings, should rate less than 30 per cent with schools like Mona High, Denbigh High, St Catherine High, William Knibb Memorial High, Black River High, May Day High, Frome Technical, and others being ranked ahead of it. These are some of our schools that face tremendous economic and other challenges and hardships. On the face of it, JC has so much more in terms of resources, both tangible and intangible. What is going on at these relatively resource-starved schools that is not happening at JC? Why is JC the lowest ranked all-boys school?
I hope that this ranking exercise will help to jolt the powers that be into being bold and taking the necessary steps to bring about the paradigm shift needed in education. They could start the process by helping us as a nation be more focused on education and the balanced, holistic development of our youngsters in school. In this regard, one of the low hanging fruits on this tree of reform and a step in the right direction would be the banning of the recruiting of youngsters for sports purposes by our high schools. We eagerly await the next edition of these Educate Jamaica rankings with the appropriate refinements and fine-tuning.
Dr Lascelve "Muggy" Graham former Jamaica football captain.