PUB­LIC AF­FAIRS Stu­dents should be cu­ri­ous

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Mark Rick­etts, econ­o­mist, au­thor and lec­turer liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia, was chief econ­o­mist of the Van­cou­ver Board of Trade in Canada; deputy chair­man of the Ja­maica Stock Ex­change; and as­sis­tant edi­tor of the ‘Fi­nan­cial Post’, Canada’s largest fi­nan­cial week

YES, IM­MAC­U­LATE High School for girls con­tin­ued its record of ex­cel­lence with a 100 per cent score of all its stu­dents who sat this year’s CSEC and passed at least five sub­jects, in­clud­ing English and math­e­mat­ics. Just be­ing nipped was Cam­pion, which has main­tained its stel­lar per­for­mance over the years, scor­ing an im­pres­sive 99.5 per cent.

Other se­condary schools in the up­per ech­e­lons of the 90s in­cluded St Hilda’s, Hamp­ton, Mt Alver­nia, Wolmer’s Girls, West­wood, Glen­muir, and deCarteret. Such out­stand­ing achieve­ment must have glad­dened the hearts of par­ents, teach­ers, friends, and, of course, the suc­cess­ful stu­dents them­selves.

Con­trast this with the mood and feel­ings which must have emerged in homes and schools and among stu­dents them­selves at 54 of 161 se­condary schools, where passes of the ex­ter­nal CSEC exam, with five sub­jects or more, in­clud­ing not math­e­mat­ics and English, but math­e­mat­ics or English, were less than 10 per cent. It must have been dis­con­cert­ing. It must have been dev­as­tat­ing. That 10 per cent num­ber is much worse if we in­cluded the stu­dents who did not even qual­ify to sit the exam.

Think of that child sit­ting in class, year af­ter year, go­ing through the paces, with rit­u­als defin­ing be­ing there at the be­gin­ning of each school year, ar­riv­ing at school in a uni­form, ac­knowl­edg­ing be­ing present for each class, and sit­ting there, and sit­ting there, and sit­ting there, ex­cept for breaks for lunch, and leav­ing the class­room at the end of the day to go home.

It is as if noth­ing of mean­ing has been pre­sented, and, if it has, there is no as­sim­i­la­tion, no ap­pre­ci­a­tion, and no re­gur­gi­ta­tion. There is noth­ing to ques­tion, noth­ing to un­der­stand, noth­ing to gar­ner, and noth­ing to re­tain. Af­ter a time, the stu­dent won­ders what all of this is about and where is it lead­ing. It all seems a col­lec­tion of noth­ing, a lo­ca­tion of nowhere, and a to­tal dis­con­nect be­tween stu­dent, par­ent, teacher, com­mu­nity, and coun­try.

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion sees num­bers: teach­ers hired, class­rooms in use, stu­dents en­rolled, teacher-pupil ra­tios, but then the stu­dent’s so­journ comes to an end, prob­a­bly at 15 years of age, and if he or she is a fail­ing stu­dent, in a fail­ing school, in a fail­ing neigh­bour­hood, he or she with­draws or ex­its with­out cu­rios­ity, with­out aware­ness, and with­out an abil­ity to for­mu­late ideas or ef­fec­tively com­mu­ni­cate.

He or she is con­fused, drift­ing anony­mously through dis­ap­point­ment, de­spair, an­noy­ance, dis­tress, and be­ing em­bit­tered. Muted, they can’t even of­fer an ex­pla­na­tion to dis­traught par­ents des­per­ately in need of know­ing.

“Did you take the exam? Did you fail? How many sub­jects did you pass? You must pass even one. You could not sit in class all this time and not even pass one? So what were you do­ing all these years? Speak up! I can’t hear you! You mean you have noth­ing to tell your mother, who makes sure ev­ery day you are dressed prop­erly to go to school and finds bus fares for you even when I don’t have it?”

The stu­dent lis­tens to his or her mother, but can’t hear her; looks at her, but can’t see her. They are bereft of emo­tion. For them, some­where is nowhere and some­thing is noth­ing. This is un­der­scored by the find­ings in the pub­li­ca­tion Prisms of Pos­si­bil­ity: A re­port card on ed­u­ca­tion in Ja­maica.

NO IN­TER­EST IN SCHOOL

Ze­ro­ing in on one of the many ar­eas of con­cern, the re­port makes ref­er­ence to the large pro­por­tion, 30 per cent of “outof-school youth”, 15-16 years, who in­di­cated they were not in school be­cause they were “not in­ter­ested”. The study found this wor­ri­some, as it may in­di­cate a need for in­creas­ing rel­e­vance of what is be­ing taught.

The ed­u­ca­tion min­istry, with a bud­get of $97 bil­lion, in­clud­ing a non-bud­geted item of $3 bil­lion this year, has the sec­ond largest bud­get al­lo­ca­tion be­hind the Min­istry of Finance, and with a whopping in­crease of 15 per cent, year-over-year, I think the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion should re­fo­cus its em­pha­sis and di­rec­tion so as to min­imise the fail­ures and un­suc­cess­ful school leavers who re­ally have lim­ited op­tions – no passes, no cer­tifi­cates, no aware­ness, no cu­rios­ity, no in­ter­ests, and no val­ues.

In all of this, it is not just the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion record­ing an­other statis­tic of non-achieve­ment but the so­ci­ety ab­sorb­ing yet an­other per­son that might not be able to make any mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion, and who, in­stead, might have to pur­sue low-level vend­ing or ne­far­i­ous ac­tiv­i­ties to keep body and soul to­gether.

Be­havioural, emo­tional, and cog­ni­tive de­fi­cien­cies add to the sense of drift, of hus­tle, driven by need and/or a per­verse sense of en­ti­tle­ment. Then come hurt and rage and re­venge.

Imag­ine a stu­dent, sim­i­lar to the one who left school at 15 in the ex­am­ple I gave above, start­ing school with the In­ter­net al­ready in place and im­proved tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing a TV in the class­room, show­ing mostly Ja­maican ac­tors and ac­tresses de­pict­ing real-life op­tions in var­i­ous pro­fes­sions. Be­ing en­gaged vis­ually, the stu­dent will see what he or she would like to be in life. School will be more in­ter­est­ing and in­for­ma­tive, and they will learn about what is en­tailed in get­ting where they want to go.

Guided, as well as prod­ded for so­lu­tions in in­ter­ac­tive ses­sions, and be­ing aided through TV pro­grammes to grap­ple with the vex­ing ques­tions of con­flict res­o­lu­tion and anger man­age­ment, school would now take on rel­e­vance for the stu­dent.

With this higher level of in­ter­est and en­gage­ment, this stu­dent, if he or she left school at 15, un­like the other stu­dent in the ear­lier ex­am­ple, would have de­vel­oped the art of con­ver­sa­tion, and, most im­por­tant, he or she would be far more aware and cu­ri­ous. And I haven’t even touched as yet the im­pact and util­ity of the cur­ricu­lum. Also ben­e­fit­ing stu­dents would be films of Ja­maican achiev­ers who they can iden­tify with, em­u­late, or be mo­ti­vated by.

The im­pact of all this comes from what I hope will be the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Train­ing and Tech­nol­ogy with a nerve cen­tre, The New Tech­nol­ogy School Hub, which will trans­mit a mes­sage say­ing the min­istry is us­ing tech­nol­ogy to up­skill our stu­dents as quickly as pos­si­ble.

On the sub­ject of ed­u­ca­tion, there is more that needs to be said, in­clud­ing core sub­ject re­quire­ments and equal­is­ing bril­liant in­struc­tion for all. I am putting those on hold to look at the press­ing is­sue of crime.

To start off my se­ries will be an in­ter­view with the com­mis­sioner of police, Dr Carl Wil­liams.

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