Scandalous practice by primary schools

Monday, February 17, 2014    

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Every now and again we are left to wonder about the relationship between the Education Ministry and schools; and indeed, whether they are anywhere near the same wavelength.

News from the Education Ministry that several primary schools are requiring children to sit screening tests before they can be accepted has given us yet more reason for pause.

If we are reading it right, it seems that if these young children, at age six or thereabouts, 'fail' the test they could be prevented from entering the primary school of choice

We are told that not only are children being screened, their parents and guardians are being asked to pay a fee to do the test - as much as $8,000.

That, we suggest, is scandalous, perhaps even criminal.

The education ministry advisory says Chief Education Officer Dr Grace McLean has directed school administrators to accept on a first-come, first-serve basis, children who reside in proximity of the school.

Well, even those of us who are some distance from the education system are aware of that long-used practice. So surely administrators, including principals and school board directors as well as teachers, cannot claim ignorance.

We are aware that some primary schools have done so well academically down the years that there is a 'high press' from parents to get their children into those schools. Indeed, a few such schools have done so well, they have become first choices for the relatively well off who would otherwise send their children to expensive private institutions.

That pressure, we suspect, may have led to the unscrupulous practice alleged by the Ministry of Education.

Then, of course, there is the never ending need for school administrators to find innovative ways of raising funds, since the cash-strapped Government is unable to cover all expenses.

However, those challenges and circumstances facing schools must not be an excuse for callousness and cynicism.

We can only underline Dr McLean's warning to administrators to "immediately desist from this practice and cease from discriminating against any student, parent or family on financial, intellectual or social grounds".

And further that "in all cases the rights of the child must remain at the forefront, and access and equity in the educational school system must be preserved".

In other words, the public education system in modern Jamaica, funded by taxpayers, is there to serve the children of all Jamaicans, not just some.





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