Monday, 8 June 2015

Don't Rush Into School Zoning

The decision by the Ministry of Education to place students who sit the annual Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) closer to their respective home as of 2015 is most commendable. However, we need to examine all the pros and cons of such a move before it becomes the general policy.
The placing of students in schools in their geographical area should only come after the state can guarantee minimum standards for all our schools. The education ministry’s intended zoning policy clearly has its benefits, one of which is to curtail the long distances some students travel daily to and from school.
In many Jamaican families, there is a culture of sending their children to specific schools, in keeping with the tradition within such families. Therefore, placing a student in a school closer to his/her home may not necessarily be in the best interest of the student.
Students who live in depressed communities should not be placed in any high school in their community.  The experiences of such students are limited to begin with and when they are placed in schools in the areas in which they live such students do not benefit as much from that wider experiential mix that they would have garnered had they been placed outside of the comfort zone of their community. We should also be careful that this policy is not viewed as a discriminatory system since that most of the better performing schools are located in areas where the income levels are higher than the income levels of the communities where the lower performing schools are sited. 
The notion of failing schools is not only a public perception issue; it is a fact which is documented by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) Unit of the Ministry of Education which is mandated to inspect all schools.
According to the 2014 National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report more than sixty per cent (60%) of the country’s primary and secondary schools are failing in their education delivery to the nation’s children. With more than half of all our schools failing the rush to get into a good school remains extremely high. This report is very troubling and provides a sound basis for parents and guardians to do all within their powers to ensure that their children are placed at a high performing school even if it means travelling long distances.
The distance that students travel to and from school cannot be the only deciding factor in determining what is in the best interest of student.  The Ministry of Education needs to embark on a consultative approach on this matter before signing off on this issue.

Wayne Campbell