The following is an open letter to Fayval Williams, minister of education:
We write regarding the Ministry of Education's recent announcement mandating grades 12 and 13 for all students in an effort to transition to a seven-year secondary education system through the implementation of the Sixth Form Pathway Programme (SFPP).
We welcome and laud the education ministry's continued efforts to ensure that all students aged 16 to 18 on August 31 of any school year, or who will attain that age by December 31 in the year of admission, have access to educational opportunities and establish a first-class national education system.
However, we are concerned for our schools and fellow students as we do not believe that this programme is possible fiscally, logistically, and sustainably for the following reasons:
1) Lack of clarity regarding funding for the programme
The ministry has not clearly outlined how the grade 12 and 13 programmes at the respective schools will be funded. There has long been a conversation centred on the insufficiency of the funding the Ministry of Education offers to schools. Further, given that the ministry continues to reiterate that parents/guardians of students in grades 7 to 11 are not mandated to pay school fees, many of the nation's secondary schools have had to resort to fund-raising in order to supplement the funding from the ministry to maintain the quality of education offered, the quality and number of facilities available to the students, and the various programmes offered by the institutions.
One way in which they seek to do this is by using fees collected from the enrolment in sixth-form programmes. It is our understanding the ministry intends to also make payment of these fees strictly voluntary.
If this is so, we, as student leaders in our institutions, worry that they may face further financial constraints which will, inevitably, negatively affect the quality of education offered to the students, as well as the environment of the school.
2) Student autonomy is removed
Students no longer have the freedom to decide what comes next for them after a five-year period – formerly the prescribed amount of years to be spent in secondary school. Instead, they are restricted to spending two additional years in sixth form, which are optional in other countries of the Commonwealth.
Adding these extra years may prove counterproductive as some students have no need to pursue advanced-level courses or any other qualification offered under the SFPP to pursue further studies at the university level.
The fact is, one of the nation's major universities, the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) does not require any of the courses offered under the SFPP. It accepts Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subject passes, attainable mainly at grades 10 and 11, for matriculation to pursue many of the degree programmes offerred.
The ministry has also made utterances regarding the prohibition of grade 11 graduations, thereby robbing students of a momentous occasion, which has been greatly anticipated by many students and parents from their first day in grade 7.
3) Lack of logistical feasibility
Operating under the SFPP, all grade 11 students will transition to grade 12. At this point in time such a move is not feasible due to the disparity between the number of students that can now be accommodated in sixth form and number of students enrolled in grade 11. Where will the institutions find the space?
We acknowledge that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been signed between the Ministry of Education and the department which governs tertiary or private institutions. This MOU stipulates that principals of secondary institutions are “required to continue to monitor their students engaged in grades 12 and 13 at tertiary institutions”; however, we understand that the ministry has plans to expand the current sixth-form programme to accommodate all three pathways at the secondary institutions. Such a move would increase the logistical strain on not only principals, but also other members of staff.
We must recognise that there is a severe shortage of individuals trained to teach some subjects, especially those of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) variety, so where will the teachers be found to facilitate the specialisations outlined in each of the pathways?
Due to the complexity and variability associated with the outlined monitoring and evaluation framework and the specifications for each pathway, we do not believe that the SFPP is sustainable or will prove greatly efficient.
For these reasons, we ask, as concerned members of student government, that the Ministry of Education reconsiders its mandate on sixth-form education and, instead, seek to engage stakeholders, the majority of whom are students, to determine the best way forward for the education of the nation's students at grades 11 and 13. This is a conversation in which we are all willing and able to participate.
Akil Henry, head boy, St George's College
Xavier Henry, deputy head boy, lower school, St George's College
Justin Preddie, deputy head boy, upper school, St George's College
Destini Grant, senior lady, St George's College
Amelia O'Gilvie, assistant senior lady, St George's College
Shaquille Brown, students' council president, St George's College
Malikai Allwood, head boy, Kingston College
Chenille Mundell, head girl, St Andrew High School for Girls
Theronie Hunt, head girl, St Hugh's High School
Roberto Morgan, head boy, St Jago High School
Christopher Rookwood, head boy, St Catherine High School
Dejanae Green, head girl, St Catherine High School
Andrew McIntosh, head boy, York Castle High School
Shellese Hall, head girl, Dinthill Technical High School
Tremar Ivey, head boy, Dinthill Technical High School
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