Saturday, 1 February 2014

Look Beyond the Headlines and Help Our Schools

No one wants to be associated with an educational institution labelled as a prison school.  As a result many school administrators are upset, some have even cried openly since the Jamaica Constabulary Force report on Education and Crime was tabled in Parliament by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites. However, while it’s safe to say that the report is flawed and misrepresented in some ways we should look beyond the headlines and see whether some good can emerge from this report. The fact is as a society we have been heading down the road of under-performance and under achievement of our young men for quite some time. This has resulted in many of our young men ending up in our penal institutions or dropping out of school. There are two schools of thought with regards to boys, underachievement. Firstly, there are those who locate the problem in relation to wider social changes and how this impacts males, particularly adolescent males with regard to their perception of masculinity and schooling. Secondly, there are those who claim that boys’ underachievement is a direct result of the emphasis that has been placed on girls.  Regardless of which theory you give support to we urgently need to have a national intervention programme targeting the scores of un- attached and “at risk” males in the society.
Our schools are in no way responsible for turning out criminals.  Over the years there has been and still is a breakdown of the family as the primary agent of socialization in the society. Needless to say the Jamaican society has a significant percentage of dysfunctional families. The trend of families being dysfunction began in the 1970,s when many Jamaicans migrated to North America and the United Kingdom in search of a better life leaving a gap regarding their parental responsibilities.  
As a result in many of our homes there was and still is little or no parental supervision. A common tendency In those splintered family types is that of juvenile delinquency by the time the child reaches high school that child is already a juvenile delinquent and therefore one step closer to prison. It’s a misnomer to think that schools turn children into criminals.
To compound this problem the government’s decision in the 1990,s to turn all secondary schools into high schools without investing heavily in the infrastructure and without providing the strong and continued support for these upgraded high schools has now return to haunt us. The cosmetic changes made to these secondary schools did not have the intended effect and does not to this very day. Those upgraded high schools are still not the first school of choice for parents and students and based on the public perception it is going to take a very long time for this to change.
Thirdly, the advent of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) has also contributed to this sad state of affairs. We continue to send all the top achievers to the traditional high schools while sending the low scoring students to the upgraded high schools. As a society we have created the problems that we are now faced with. This practice by the Education Ministry is not a best practice and therefore untenable. The Ministry of Education must lead in their regard and make some policy changes to bring more equality to the education system for the primary users of the system that is our students.
While its safe to say all our schools are trying giving their best to educate the nation’s children given the limited resources at their disposal there is an urgent need for much more intervention by the state to rescue our students who attend those upgraded high schools.
I am almost sure that not one of those officials would send their child to any of the upgraded high schools and that in and of itself speaks volume of the affairs of Jamaican education system. Despite having windows of excellence throughout the education system much more reform is urgently needed to level the playing field in terms of giving all our students access to a quality education regardless of socio economic background.
This brings us to the fourth factor contributing to failure in the education system. The public’s negative perception of most of these schools listed in the report continue to do more harm than good to the morale of the students and teachers of such institutions.
 Some schools are already viewed as “bad’ schools so as soon as the student is enrolled in such an institution he or she takes on the character and sub culture of the “bad” school.
 If we are honest to ourselves all the schools listed in the report are struggling schools.
The reality is too many of our teachers are being force to take on the role of correctional officers as they try to curb the daily instances of indiscipline in our schools which is both pervasive and prevalent in the classroom.
They are struggling with student indiscipline, as well as, a scarcity of resources both human and financial. In addition to putting police and the army on the ground in those schools as it being reported by Minister Thwaites the Education Ministry should place Social Workers in those Institutions as well. The Education Ministry also needs to examine the student/ guidance counsellor ration is all our schools with the intent to increase the number of guidance counselor in our high schools. At least four guidance counselor should be in each high school. The report on Education and Crime did not say schools are turning out criminals. The media in search of sensationalism was responsible for putting that twist to the story.
Instead of engaging in a blame game we all need to examine ourselves as a society and determine in what way/s we can help the schools in our communities to improve. We should not chastised nor beat up on the schools and the teachers at such institutions. In fact those teachers continue to work hard and continue to add value to the lives of their students.

It would be disingenuous on the part of any of the principals of those schools listed in the report to say that they are not in need of help and support. The principals of those schools listed should embrace the assistance from the Ministry of Education and redouble their effort in changing the lives of those students who come through their doors.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and Social Commentator with an emphasis on development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.