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COLUMN – Catering to the needs of our kids

Today's WomanBy the time you read this I would have gone through my second form level forum for this academic year. I am not sure if these interactions are working for the wider public; but they certainly are not working for me.

February is out-of-season for reflection on education, but I several times find myself on the wrong side of the current. Let me trouble you with three things today: a proposal for redesigning the form level meeting; thoughts on the ranking of schools in Barbados; and research for the improvement of education.

Form level madness. It is impossible for all the parents of an entire year level of a school to meet the ten plus teachers that instruct a child in a two- or two-and-half-hour period. Most schools in Barbados carry at least 150 children per year group. Most form level meetings start around 2 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. and are scheduled to run until 4:30 p.m. or 5 p.m.

My experience, however, is that most teachers leave just after 3:30 p.m. regardless of how many parents are left to be seen. The number of people and the length of consultations make the form level meetings cluttered and loud.

Some basic things can be done to improve the activity. All of the administrative interface that needs to be completed between teachers and parents cannot happen during the school term. Form level meetings should be moved to the Easter vacation period. I have no problem with the breaks which teachers get for vacation.

In order to be a good teacher, weekend work and preparation time often mean that teachers work very long
and hard during school sessions. They generally need the rest and revitalization that vacations afford.

However, turning two days of the first week of every vacation into “office hour”-type sessions can provide for some much needed time for administrative work which could be taken out of the actual school term.

In terms of the form level meeting, subdividing the year group into classes can further assist in the structure of the exercise. The time could be further structured by giving each parent an appointment time. The actual objectives of the form level exercise could also be refined and made clear for parents to ensure that everybody is participating in the exercise with the same objectives and expectations of the process.

School rankings. A very interesting thing is occurring among three “top-ranked” schools in Barbados, and although I hear whispers in rum shops or from other mums in the yards of extra-curricular activities, there has been little national discussion on the trend.

The 11-Plus Examination structure was built around Harrison College being the “top educational institution on the island” and the first school of choice. However, over the years and for various reasons, Harrison College has been overtaken as the school of choice. Many a parent is now opting for Queen’s College or The St Michael School as the top choice.

The result of the change is that students who have the highest marks in the Common Entrance Exam are not now automatically found at Harrison College. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself –– I am not suggesting that it is. The bigger takeaway is that our educational system is so old and so slow that it does not adjust to these changes in any haste.

Harrison College is no longer the top-ranked school in Barbados, based on parent choice at the 11-Plus. It seems, though, that the system does not allow for any movement among schools at the top level of the system. This inflexibility mirrors the schools at the “bottom” of the rank that do not move up or down the ranking based on merit.

There is no secret that the schools in Barbados are ranked. All schools on the island are certainly not the same. Without commenting on whether the ranking system is good or bad, if it exists, I think it should at least be flexible enough for schools to change rank, according to what is being done in any given annual period.

If one year is too short a span, then perhaps three or five years would be logistically better. The preconceived notion that one school is the “best” on the island, and that best is not actual but historical, is as problematic as when one hears that another is “the worst”, based on the same misguided scales.

Research and documentation. The simple point that is highlighted, partly coming out of the above discussion, is that to have a ranking system for secondary schools in Barbados that truly represents what is actually happening in education, there will need to be more real-time monitoring and evaluation.

We do not have a monitoring and evaluation mechanism built into the millions of dollars that we spend on education in this country. Some schools are successful and some schools are failing bitterly and there is no mechanism to measure or record either occurrence.

That state of affairs needs to change urgently. Every school in Barbados needs a comprehensive system of review, and that review should have room for student input. Apart from that process, we need to be able to create a system for recording elements of models which are working effectively in the sector. Queen’s College School is thriving under the leadership of Dr David Brown. Dr Brown has managed to create an enriched school that exposes children to academic, sporting and community involvement excellence.

There have been historical elements retained in the character of the institution, but there are other elements which have been completely shattered and reformulated. The Queen’s College of today is not the Queen’s College of yesterday; and as we look to move other schools closer to best practice, what works must be recorded.

The Springer Memorial School is another model that is working effectively at the moment, and it offers a different set of dynamics for Queen’s College, because it is an example of a school built around a specialist endeavour. If we are serious about education, these schools must be captured as action research.

The mothers of the nation must care about how their children are supported in the educational sector. Why do we persist with a system that is too rigid and not serving its best purpose? When will we get serious about catering to our children’s needs?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and a part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email:

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