Make education the mission

Lascelve GRAHAM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

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ALTHOUGH apparent-ly well-intentioned, Dr Kevin Asher keeps missing the point of the debate with respect to the importing, recruiting and transfer of students by our high schools in an attempt to win in inter-school competition. Schools import to win full stop! Bringing in youngsters for sports purposes is a violation of the spirit and philosophy of educational athletics in high schools. Our schools are not sports academies.

Sport is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for education. As I have said in earlier articles: "There is almost no sport in schools in those countries rated as having the best education systems in the world. Although all of these countries are passionate about sports and excel at many, sports is separate from school. It is not a part of the core mission of school. The problem is that sports can sometimes, if not constantly kept contained, eat away at and overwhelm the mission of school, which is education."

Our schools should be uncompromisingly and completely focused on education, including the inculcation of pro-social values, attitudes and skills in our youth. All that we do (including extra-curricular, co-curricular activities) in our schools should be geared by precept and example towards achieving this goal. Anything else is a corruption of the official system and is fraught with danger for students and the society.

Dr Asher stated in an article dated July 21, that, "Jamaica's educational playing field is not level.. this same disparity exists among schools when it comes to sports. This was the main point of my article published on June 2, 2014, which was to focus attention on these disparities as the driving force behind the transfer of athletes, and students in general, between schools." This must be the mother of all straw men. It is obvious that transfers occur because of disparities between schools. That fact is impatient of debate. However, not all transfers occur because of this and all transfers are not automatically valid or justified because of this. Moreover, it must be noted that, in addition to recruiting from weaker schools, top sports schools recruit stars from top sports schools.

Schools within the overwhelming number of successful countries in the world have disparities; yet these schools do not import youngsters for sports purposes. The focus is different. The same principle applied to the recent football World Cup. None of the best countries in football in the world rely on public schools for the development of their youth talent. None import or recruit youngsters into schools based on their football ability.

The potential benefits of sports to youth are well known. So, citing the doctoral thesis of a Lee Sitkowski, who investigated one high school in the USA, is not relevant to the discourse. Many more of the potential benefits would be realised for a greater number of our students if sports were allowed to perform its rightful role in school as an educational and socialising tool. When a youngster from the depths of the inner city qualifies under our declared system, especially for a preferred high school, this is "a life-changing opportunity" and must not be tampered with by way of bringing in others for sports purposes.

What the school rankings emphasised is the poor state of education in Jamaica and the need to be more focused on education. It showed that only 25 per cent of our high schools -- those ranked up to number 41 -- had 50 per cent or more of the children passing five subjects including English and mathematics at CSEC in 2013. Conversely, 75 per cent of our secondary schools had a passing rate below 50 per cent, with some below 10 per cent.

There are many reasons our high schools do as poorly as they do. However, is it coincidence that none of our traditional boys' schools, with their superior resources, rank in the top 10? Coincidentally, the alumni of our boys' schools exhibit some of the most rabid recruiting practices for sports purposes; spending millions of dollars when sports is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for education. Is this a step in the right direction?

Only three of our boys' schools -- Wolmer's, St George's College and Munro -- are ranked in the top 25 schools; with the others -- Kingston College (28), Jamaica College (34), Cornwall College (43), and Calabar (45) -- bringing up the rear. One could be excused for seeing these rankings as Champs in reverse.

It is a time we re-examine our priorities, act in the best interest of our children and Jamaica, and clearly make education and the proper socialisation of our youth the priorities of our schools.

Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham is a former Jamaica football captain.




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