Correcting education’s woes

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‘For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.’
-HL Mencken

Last month, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley reportedly said, ‘Tough decisions will have to be made to correct the educational imbalances’, as he anticipated ‘an honest and open discussion’ which would lead to ‘certain recommendations…(which) will be far-reaching with respect to implications for who does what’.

Several commentators have limited themselves to the SEA (Secondary Entrance Assessment), ignoring the reality that, ‘Persistent educational inequality and inequity are systematically suffered by certain groups while others…enjoy educational advantages over them,’ Deosaran (2016).

The inequality starts early and builds cumulatively, as noted in a landmark US study (ed. Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000). Every aspect of early human development (from the brain to the capacity for empathy) begins in the prenatal period and extends to the early childhood years.

One’s chances for success depend on several factors, not least of which is the relationship with people who could connect you to opportunities. Your chances are influenced by the family into which you were born and where you grow up. Some places, due to the presence of mentors and life examples, give children a really good chance. We have to discuss these issues in light of our single mothers and those who struggle financially. What will we especially do for those with children under the age of six?

Our educationists speak in general terms, seldom identifying specific demographic groups needing special care and attention. Where are the specialist teams, focused on improving literacy and numeracy as a jump-off point for the sciences, assigned to school districts? The famed PISA (OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment) score is an ‘average’ of all our pupils’ performances.

One of the best ways to improve our ranking is to shorten the long ‘tail’ of underperformers. We have to identify potential dropouts and deploy a range of activities. For some, this may mean individualised attention, and for others, a new range of options other than traditional academic fare.

These actions will help to level the playing field, reducing the differences between the ‘prestige’ and other schools, be they at the primary or secondary level, eliminating the rush for acceptance into the ‘prestige’ schools. To achieve this, we have to become more selective in the recruitment of teachers and we have to pay them better. At present, there is a splendid opportunity to recruit recent graduates to provide special help to those struggling with online classes. We should build libraries in all our school districts.

The nations leading the PISA tests have a cohesive, compact society. We do not and therefore need to integrate our educational strategy into an overall national, forward-thinking strategy. We must have a strong sense of fairness and place value on each and every child. Children cannot learn if they are unsafe or hungry. The potential for greatness must be developed.

Data should drive action. Why are the children doing poorly? How do we get resources to them? What is going to make them learn? Education is more than accountability and standardised examinations, it is about putting relationships with the children first so that they come along for the journey.

The emphasis has to be on building a fairer, more equitable society through education.

Noble Philip