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High school standard-bearers of excellence?

BY DR LASCELVE GRAHAM

Saturday, May 11, 2013    

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RECENTLY, one of our daily newspapers printed a ranking of high schools based on English and Math CSEC results (30/4/13). These are the two most basic subjects in high school, and while there are other schools that are not performing up to the standard we would expect, what immediately startled me was the very low ranking of two of our most prestigious traditional high schools — Calabar and Jamaica College.

Coincidentally, these schools placed first and second at our recently concluded extravaganza of high school track and field — Champs. If my memory serves me correctly, these schools have produced more prime ministers than any others in Jamaica. They boast some of the highest-status, most powerful and successful alumni of any high school in Jamaica. They potentially have the wherewithal to do what any school in Jamaica can do, and more than many can even dream of doing.

Why then should Calabar be ranked 36th in Mathematics and 38th in English, and Jamaica College ranked 29th in Mathematics and 32nd in English among 64 secondary high schools? The other groups were upgraded high schools and technical high schools.

These schools, it appears, pull out all the stops to do well at sports. Both schools are allegedly strong supporters of giving great weight, where they can, in the admissions process, to a youngster’s sports prowess. A number of stories have been making the rounds in this regard.

There is no gainsaying that they have been consistently very successful at sports. However, what about what many, the world over, regard as the core function of high schools — the academic/technical aspects? Is it that these schools are out of kilter with respect to the balance between sports and education? Is it a matter of emphasis?

One would suspect that the intake of students to these schools would not be any worse and, in fact, may be much better than the intake of many of the schools that ranked higher up the academic scale. In fact, one must ask, with their abundance of physical, human and historical assets, why aren’t these schools getting the best intake of students possible?

It is said that winning at sports will do a lot of wonderful things for a school, like making the more academically able youngster want to attend the school. In that case, these two schools should have absolutely no problem with respect to the academic aptitude of their students; they should be getting the cream of the crop beacuse they have been sports champions so often.

It is also said that winning makes it easier to raise funds for the school. Hence, these schools should outstrip their peers with respect to fundraising, a perennial bugbear of our high schools. The question remains then, what is the problem? Why are two of our most acclaimed and illustrious high schools so poorly ranked in these two basic high school subjects? Is doing well in these subjects not important?

There are, of course, those who would have us believe that education has changed so drastically, that stressing languages (English) and Mathematics at high school level is anachronistic. If they are not of this view, why are these schools languishing so far down the academic pecking order here?

I think the answers to these questions are important since they may help us get a better understanding of some of the problems in our education/socialisation system of high school and therefore give us a better chance of finding solutions. Is it that these two schools have evolved seamlessly and unnoticed into sports academies and, if so, is this the most efficient use of Jamaica’s scarce, specialised academic/technical resources?

Sports academies focus on and emphasise developing sports talent and youngsters are admitted, understandably so, based primarily on their sports potential/ability. High schools, on the other hand, are specialised academic/technical institutions. They are established to serve educational purposes.

Education takes many forms and some of the most valuable learning experiences take place outside the classroom. However, academic and intellectual rigour is central to the academic enterprise. As Rene Simoes, the Brazilian coach who took us to our only football World Cup final appearance, recently put it, schools are for building good citizens. Clubs, sports academies, etc are for building sports talent.

Some of the more cynical Jamaicans posit that many of our educators have given up, and since it is easier to recruit readymade sports talent and assemble a winning sports team than to develop Jamaica or Rhodes Scholars, they have taken the former route.

Some educators apparently hold the view that since only a relatively small number of students are affected adversely by recruiting for sports purposes, these can be treated as collateral damage in the scheme of things and the injustice done to them can be overlooked.

The many other, often unintended, negative consequences to our education/socialisation process that sports recruiting at the high school level help to fuel are downplayed, covered up, and simply excused as symptomatic of the wider society. At the same time, it is felt these educators spout beautiful-sounding phrases like, “every child can learn, every child must learn” to camouflage what is really happening.

I sincerely hope that the educators of Calabar and Jamaica College are not numbered among the group described above.

— Dr Lascelve ‘Muggy’ Graham is a former Jamaica football captain

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