ISSA’s aca­demic bar lacks merit

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Owen Speid Guest Colum­nist Owen Speid is a school prin­ci­pal. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and spei­d­owen@ya­hoo.com.

WITH A grow­ing num­ber of stu­dents in our Ja­maican school sys­tem hav­ing been di­ag­nosed with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, we should be ab­so­lutely con­cerned that the In­terSe­condary Schools’ Sports As­so­ci­a­tion (ISSA) has con­tin­ued to im­pose an aca­demic bar on stu­dents seek­ing to rep­re­sent their school in sports.

It must be noted that chil­dren with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties are those who have neu­ro­log­i­cal chal­lenges over which they have no con­trol, and these pre­vent them from learn­ing at a cer­tain rate at given stages of their de­vel­op­ment.

It is sad that in 21st-cen­tury Ja­maica, ISSA does not see it fit to use re­search to in­form its de­ci­sions, and this has left some of our most vul­ner­a­ble youth hu­mil­i­ated for things over which they have no con­trol.

In 2014, is­land­wide as­sess­ment of ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 stu­dents per re­gion, who were sus­pected by their teach­ers of hav­ing learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, was car­ried out by a team com­mis­sioned by the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion.

The find­ings showed that 54 per cent of those as­sessed were found to have learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. More than 30 per cent of those stu­dents were found to be in need of im­me­di­ate intervention. A lack of hu­man and phys­i­cal re­sources made it im­pos­si­ble for them to get the nec­es­sary intervention be­fore some of them are sent off to sec­ondary schools that par­tic­i­pate in ISSA-run com­pe­ti­tions.

DIS­CRIM­I­NA­TION

The rights of a child who does sports are no dif­fer­ent from the rights of a child who par­tic­i­pates in per­form­ing arts, clubs and so­ci­eties, be­cause all of these ac­tiv­i­ties were de­signed and made avail­able in schools for the growth and de­vel­op­ment of the chil­dren.

How then are all other stu­dents, ex­cept ath­letes of all sports, al­lowed to rep­re­sent their schools with­out sat­is­fy­ing any form of aca­demic re­quire­ment?

What is go­ing to be done to pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble high-school stu­dent who is very tal­ented at sports, has his learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, did not get any form of intervention, tries his heart out, but can only get 25-30 per cent scores be­cause of his con­di­tion?

I say with­out fear of con­tra­dic­tion that or­gan­i­sa­tions such as ISSA, the Child De­vel­op­ment Agency, Ja­maicans For Jus­tice, the Of­fice of the Pub­lic De­fender, the Min­istry of Sports and the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion have failed these young­sters. They need to step for­ward, with ur­gency, with a view to cor­rect­ing these atroc­i­ties meted out to our tal­ented youth.

LOST REL­E­VANCE

Mod­ern schools do not need en­ti­ties like ISSA to reg­u­late them. There are greater lev­els of sup­port and ac­count­abil­ity now than in those days over two and a half decades ago when this rule came about. Schools are now sup­ported more vig­or­ously by PATH, guid­ance and coun­selling units, and deans of dis­ci­pline. Fur­ther to that is ro­bust over­sight by the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion In­spec­torate and ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cers.

It must be noted as well that the rule does not foster sus­tain­able aca­demic achieve­ment, be­cause a stu­dent is re­quired to qual­ify in the term be­fore com­pe­ti­tion. It, there­fore, means that if a stu­dent gets his scores in June 2016, he qual­i­fies him­self to play Man­ning Cup foot­ball in the Christ­mas term fol­low­ing. What is the guar­an­tee then that he will put in any sus­tained ef­fort to achieve aca­demic suc­cess dur­ing the sea­son? And will po­ten­tial 90 per cent per­form­ers be sat­is­fied with get­ting 45 per cent since that qual­i­fies him to par­tic­i­pate?

The time is right for ISSA to abol­ish this rule so that no level of dis­crim­i­na­tion is al­lowed in the sys­tem and co­horts of stu­dents can ac­cess all that is pro­vided for them through­out their school life.

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