Mark Wignall | Badly lopsided education system
To the wealthy who stand atop society's totem pole, the uncomfortably large percentage of those who hover beneath and those whose best fit in somewhere in-between, the biggest open secret in this country is that our education system, by fault or by design, guarantees a few an easier path and consigns many to the dump heap of opportunity.
Here is part of a letter from well-known businessman with a social conscience, John Mahfood, to the minister of education.
It details the raw reality and the stark failures of a school, Whitfield All-Age, where poor parents send their 'children of a lesser god' to slowly die on the vine and eventually wither away in a landfill of grime, hardship, and criminality.
"I was notified last week that I was appointed the chairman of the school and paid them a quick visit last week. I was stunned at the conditions of the school.
"There is no water, no phone and no Internet. There is complete disrepair, including a pit on the playground that is on the verge of collapse. The school was once designated an all-age school but now operates as a primary school, only taking children six to 12. However, it is still designated as an all-age school.
"The school once accom-modated more than 1,000 students, but now has less than 100 students and are losing students at a rapid rate. Twenty-seven students sat for GSAT at the last sitting and none got into a traditional high school. I reviewed the scores of the students and they were very poor."
A SIMPLE PLEA
According to Mr Mahfood, a previous board member informed him that representations were made to the Ministry of Education and, 'after a number of years', nothing has been done. Mahfood's plea to the minister is simple.
"We cannot allow the school to remain open if the damaged pit is not repaired. It could collapse at any time and this could result in the death of children."
The newly appointed chairman informs me that the year before, 24 children sat the GSAT and only two scored sufficiently to enter traditional or choice high schools. "Without trying to prematurely label them, the realistic outcome is unlikely to be pleasant for these children. The remainder will either have to redo six grade or go to the second-tier schools.
"Most of the remaining 22 students are not going to finish high school, and will either drop out, get pregnant, turn to violence, or enter the workforce without a proper education. I asked the principal what differentiated the two that did well and she advised that they had a parent who pushed them."
COMMITMENT CAN ONLY GO THUS FAR
There is more than good reason why many parents who are not among the wealthy in the society steer their children towards primary schools like St Richard's and Windward Road. They have a history of dedicated leadership and committed teachers.
That said, no amount of leadership and commitment by teaching staff can compete with a lack of running water, a pit toilet about to collapse and 'chacka-chacka' desks and chairs. With no Internet connection, the deal is done and the broken-down system rules and wins year after year.
Johnny enters such a system at age seven and when he is spat out at age 18, he is a slow reader, has no employable skills and has more motivation for idling and smoking weed than seeking salvation in HEART/Trust NTA.
Jenny enters prep school at six, her parents pay more than $100,000 per term for the guarantee of 97 per cent pass rate overall in GSAT, and at age 18, she is ready to enter university here or abroad. One child will likely be the one spoken down to in society and the other will issue the directives.