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Bold move; let’s talk

There are few things than bring as much pride to the average Barbadian adult as being able to boast about the exploit of his or her school. And it seems that the farther, age wise, some of us have journeyed away from these institution the greater our sense of connection grows.

We compare and defend our old schools with a level of vigour that is matched by not many other facets of our lives, and every new achievement by the institution or its scholars or former scholars become another notch in our belts as though we were personally involved.

Against this background, we are in no doubt that hundreds of students, former students and friends of the Springer Memorial Secondary, St. Leonard’s Boys’ Secondary and Alexandra School were elated last Friday afternoon when Minister of Education and Human Resource Development, Ronald Jones announced that these schools would be getting sixths forms from September this year.

Okay, let’s be more precise: While Minister Jones used the term “sixth form”, we are told the correct terminology being applied by the Ministry of Education is “post-secondary education facilities”.

We can understand the euphoria that would have enveloped some. After all, for decades we have measured the prestige of a number of our schools by the fact that they were sixth form institutions. Regrettably, nationally, we have repeatedly made the mistake of judging the success of these schools by the number of Barbados Scholarship and Exhibition winners they turn out annually.

The truth is, however, that the handful of top performers who receive these awards, say nothing about the scores of other students who work hard, often against great odds to make successes of themselves. It is also unfortunate that the accolades heaped on these schools, so often never take into consideration the fact that many of these top achievers are not products of just the sixth form schools, but enter these schools well prepared by the hard-working teachers from many other secondary schools who never get their true recognition.

And that brings us to our main point. How does the Ministry of Education go about selecting secondary schools to be upgraded to sixth form or post-secondary institution facilities? It is clear from the minister’s explanation that they are not desirous of creating another Harrison College, Queen’s College or Combermere at the three campuses he identified last Friday, but what exactly will be the offerings of these new upper level forms?

Are they designed to take students who have worked their way through the education stream of each of these schools, or will they act as logical, structured recipients of students from all other schools? Today, every student, even the new entrants in first forms know what they have to work toward to enter sixth form: How soon will our national school population receive some sort of “prospectus” that will tell them if they should be factoring in Springer, St. Leonard’s and Alexandra as viable alternatives to the traditional.

We are not seeking to knock the minister or the ministry over the larger decision. We believe that opening up more places for our senior students is commendable. In fact, as we stated in one of our Editorials last year, we believe the Government made a tactical error in the face of rising unemployment and contracting economy, when it did not seek avenues such as this to divert school-leavers from a job market that had little to offer them in terms of opportunities.

More importantly, if done with a clear plan in mind, it could have the added benefit of retooling the workforce at an accelerated rate, by having a much larger pool of appropriately educated and trained workers to suit the demands of a reconfigured economy.

But Minister Jones and his advisors/administrators must be prepared to spell out their plan in detail, share the philosophies behind the initiatives, take constructive criticism and recommendations and be prepared to retool — with the clear understanding that the broadest possible input will achieve better results.

If there is one major chink in the minister’s discourse/plan as outlined last Friday, it would be his suggestion that he told the three principals they would be “getting a sixth form by September” and they told him what they would like to offer.

If these are truly supposed to be national institutions, catering to students from across the island and not just their current rolls, then what is being offered should be fashioned with the input of principals across the board. Unless the plan is to include post-secondary education at all secondary schools.

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