Fri | Apr 27, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Saving subpar schools

Published:Monday | April 16, 2018 | 12:06 AM

The recent high-school rankings based on the results of the 2017 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations should come as no surprise, even though they will induce panic among parents of those who recently sat GSAT or are already placed in low-ranking schools.

All of the best-performing schools have transformational managers as principals who are supported by what Peter Phillips calls a community of care, comprising dedicated teachers, church members, parents and alumni, who, having adequate financial resources, support these priorities. More money can never replace them.

Check, too, the fact that church- and trust-sponsored schools are most often at the top of the scale. And if you dig deeper beyond the five CSEC subject threshold, you will find that such schools, on average, produce better-rounded, disciplined young men and women than those without religious moorings.

All this at a time when the churches have become lax in insisting on their right to influence the quality of what goes on in the schools they own or sponsor and when Government is ambivalent, at best, and sometimes downright manipulative about the partnership between Church and State in education.

 

INTENSE SUMMER ORIENTATION

 

So we already know many of the things that could reduce and eventually end the virtual apartheid in the Jamaican secondary system. Given the primacy of properly socialising students, a much higher level of training and character disposition will be required in the choice of principals. And the more challenged the student cohort, the better the pay and greater the accountability that must apply to the person in charge.

Then after the GSAT results from this year on, afford an intense summer orientation for all high-school entrants where the culture of the school is communicated. The strengths and weaknesses of each student are assessed and treated before formal teaching and learning begins.

Straight up: Find out if the student has sufficient command of standard English, mathematical concepts, and the absence of significant behavioural challenges to absorb high-school life.

Dr Horace Chang is right that the shift system has outlived its usefulness. One wishes that his Government had followed the plan to eradicate it by this year, instead of allowing the problem to dribble along while resources were diverted to lower political priorities.

To identify as a major cause of social distress the shift expedient that crossed political administrations, providing high-school places for some half of the cohort who would otherwise have 'aged out' at 15 is, however, incorrect and unhelpful.

Shift schools were a reasoned measure at the time when, despite a massive high-school building programme in the 1990s, there were still insufficient spaces for everyone and some had to double up. The only important discourse now is how to end the shift and urgently improve the social and academic outcomes of 100 or so of our schools.

Beyond the measures suggested, the stigma of inferiority now attached to many institutions could be reduced if there were to be a process of twinning with a stronger school, which is often in reasonable proximity or connected by a common religious tradition. Creative ways to share specialist staff, scarce facilities, and some extra-curricular activities could lift the tone and perception of the challenged school without diluting the standard of the better-pedigreed entity.

We will have to shatter the mould of many present rigidities in education if better outcomes are to be expected.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.