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We can’t dispute this one, Rev Thwaites

Monday, June 25, 2012

EDUCATION Minister Rev Ronnie Thwaites is to be commended for dragging a delicate, rarely publicly discussed issue right out in the open. We speak of his reference to the class divisions and prejudices that are deepening among and within our schools.

Rev Thwaites points to the “social chasm” to be found at some high schools mainly attended by the children of the rich and influential and the social trauma for the children of the very poor who end up at these schools.

We agree with the education minister that “education and language very often divide as race once did” and that “we have to be careful of these realities…”

Quite justifiably, much has been made of the dangers posed by the ‘gang culture’, often nourished by the more decadent of our popular music, in some schools. But anecdotal evidence suggests that classist cliques among students also undermine the social fabric.

Such behaviour is nourished long before children actually get to high schools - given the separation of children at government-run primary schools from the children of the more affluent at privately owned and run preparatory schools.

That divide extends even to sports with separate competitions for primary and preparatory institutions in a range of disciplines including cricket, football and athletics.

At the high school level, the divide, more subtly perhaps, persists between schools.

As Rev Thwaites has said, some resource difficulties at high school level could be eased, even if not resolved - if schools would actively assist each other by sharing science, techno laboratories and other facilities. All too often, we believe, the backward, age-old school-tie prejudices militate against such cooperation.

It’s a mark against too many of our school administrators and teachers that they appear to subscribe to the school-tie prejudices to the detriment of expanded education and the wider community.

As the authorities seek to revamp the flawed GSAT exam, it seems to this newspaper that finding ways to reduce the classist and schooltie prejudices in the education system should be on the agenda.

So how as a society are we to address the “social chasm” and other difficulties surrounding the placement of our children in high schools?

Obviously, it’s the improvement and expansion of educational facilities to provide first-rate places for all, that will finally resolve the issues. But the economic reality is that this won’t happen overnight.

We believe a gradual move to geographical zoning — involving the assigning of students to high schools in the areas in which they live — will help to reduce the “social chasm”. We believe that gradually parents will become comfortable with geographic zoning as the schools in question show improvement. Also, we believe, over time, it will be generally recognised that geographical zoning makes sense for reasons of economy and the security of the children.

As the situation now stands, the need for children to travel by taxi and minibus for several hours each day, to and from school, sometimes across parish borders is unreasonable, increasingly expensive and potentially dangerous.

However, whatever is done by the Ministry of Education, it seems to us that school leaders, teachers, parents and the various related organisations must appreciate the value of give and take in the quest of an improved, more equitable and unified education system.

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