Various rural secondary education principals have shed light on bleak sixth form programmes at their institutions ahead of the Ministry of Education's compulsory Sixth Form Pathway Programme come September 2022.
According to the ministry, the seven-year high school plan, which was approved by Cabinet, will armour students with the educational skill set needed after high school.
Raymon Treasure, principal of York Castle High School in Brown's Town, St Ann, told the Jamaica Observer that the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced the school to accept fewer students.
In 2019, York Castle had 164 students as part of its sixth form programme. In 2020, there were 154; and this year, 150.
“This is the number that York Castle is able to accommodate at this time due to the COVID-19 protocols. The demand for sixth form this year would have been affected by the quality of the results. A number of students who would normally join us from other schools were not able to matriculate because they didn't pass the required subjects at the CSEC (Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate) level. The quality of the passes for the students who were accepted for sixth form was quite good,” said Treasure.
At Yallahs High School in St Thomas, students don't have the option to matriculate to grades 12 and 13 after CSEC examinations.
“We currently do not have a traditional sixth form programme. A number of our students would have graduated and moved on to other schools to complete their sixth form. However, we would not have kept track of that kind of data really,” Principal Mark Malabver told the Sunday Observer.
Harry Hanson, principal of Cambridge High School in St James, related a similar reality. In 2019, only five students went on to sixth form. Two years later, there are eight students on board.
“That number would indicate those who remained at the school, however, many others were enrolled for sixth form programmes in other schools as well as being enrolled in HEART institutions,” Hanson said.
“The implementation of the sixth form programme has been challenging, as the school will need to develop facilities to house students. Some students are forced to work to supplement lost family income. Also, students and families need to be sensitised on a national level as to the new programme so that mindsets can be changed,” he continued.
Belair High School in Mandeville, Manchester, has seen a 34 per cent decrease in students moving on to sixth form in the last three years.
In 2019, there were 134 students. By 2020, only 98, and as of this year, the number has dropped to 88.
Principal Lawrence Rowe told the Sunday Observer that the steady decline over the three years is not a satisfying situation for the school.
“While we are pleased with the growth in the education sector in terms of the number of schools now offering programmes at the CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) level, the competition for students is much greater. Students and parents have a more comprehensive selection of schools to choose from to continue their additional two years of high school. For a different experience, many opt not to return to the school where they commenced secondary education, but seek to continue elsewhere,” he explained.
Rowe added that not all schools have a wide array of programme offerings to attract students.
“Many of our students find themselves in these situations, and the financial crisis with their parents renders them unable to fund the additional two years. Parents are selective to find money to enroll their child or ward in tertiary institutions to start a bachelor's degree rather than complete the additional two years.
“For instance, if the student does well at the CSEC examinations, they will usually end their tenure at lower six and then move on to college. This reality has also contributed to the decline in numbers in recent times. I am not blaming the decline on COVID-related challenges. The decrease in numbers has always been the case, and now with the comprehensive selections available, it has doubled for some schools.”
Jordon Williams, head boy at Calabar High School, told the Sunday Observer that the Sixth Form Pathway Programme is commendable.
“I support the mandating of sixth form by the Ministry of Education as too many of our youths leave school and have no idea what is it that they want to pursue in life and are led astray by the wrong crowd, resulting in crime and violence, teenage pregnancy and unemployment. I benefitted, as I am head boy of Calabar High School and being in sixth form has granted me that opportunity to better my leadership skills, explore the different educational opportunities that are offered and has helped in my overall self-development for the wider life to be.”
Williams said: “Some benefits of the sixth form matriculation are that firstly, it allows students to properly prepare their minds as to where they see their future heading as they won't be rushed from fifth form straight into university life and it also helps in better preparedness for university courses considering how the CAPE curriculum is set up for each subject.
“Sixth formers are viewed as the senior students and are looked upon as being more reliable, more responsible, more mature and are expected to represent the school at the highest standard. The acquisition of these positions will help in applying process to their designated universities,” Williams continued.
Theronie Hunt, head girl of St Hugh's High School said the importance of education after high school is transitioning from a gender-based proclivity that advocates education mainly for women, to one that introduces the significance to our young men.
“We must promote an environment in which the matriculation of young males to sixth form programmes become embedded in our educational system in the imminent future. In essence, it provides young men with the opportunity to develop themselves both academically and personally to a greater extent than the typical secondary educational experience. This programme can introduce more adept young males to Jamaica's workforce,” she said.
Roberto Morgan, head boy at St Jago High School, also agrees with sixth form being compulsory.
“Objections to this decision would ruminate over the expenses to be sustained by parents and students, the facilitation of this programme within secondary institutions, as well as the measures that would be implemented for students if they fail to matriculate. Although pertinent questions and concerns can be voiced on this matter, there are good initiatives that the Government can take and are currently effectuating to resolve them, the Sixth Form Pathways programme, for example,” he said.
“We know the working world is very competitive and university is certainly not for the weak. This therefore means that schools and students need to exert more effort in building a solid foundation and assuring their readiness. Students need to be mature, well-informed, disciplined and academically inclined before entering colleges and universities, thereby making sixth form very relevant. In addition, sixth form is a useful time for youths to discover and re-discover their passions and career aspirations, while linking it to their competencies.”