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What of our underachievers, Mr Jones?

Again, I ask: what is the purpose of keeping the Common Entrance Examination? Those children who did exceptionally well were doing so for years. Those children who did not do well were not doing so for years too.

In my daughter’s case, she has been scoring 30s or 20s on criterion reference testing consistently. She is diagnosed as dyslexic; and any intervention she received was facilitated privately.

In other words, it would have been possible for my daughter to begin criterion reference testing at 25 per cent and end it at 25 per cent, and the state would still have given her a bursary, like it did, without so much as a systematic effort to improve her.

–– Barbados TODAY columnist Marsha Hinds-Layne writing in last Thursday’s edition under the title Another Day Yet In Motherhood.

Amid all the public sparring among Mark Maloney, Chief Town Planner Mark Cummins et al., as well as within and outside the National Union of Public Workers, we would like to take a pause today from those headline stories to hold hands with one of our columnists, whose daughter was recently awarded a bursary following this year’s Common Entrance Exam.

Based on the mother’s report of the school’s handling of the results, we feel Minister of Education Ronald Jones has a lot more explaining to do than just why he chose this year, of all years, to withhold the list of top ten performers in the exam.

While that decision will not change the price of milk, Minister Jones, Karen Best and the like could do much to change the growing perception of them and the school system as being both irreparable wastes, by looking to positively effect change to a public education system that continually writes off students from the tender age of ten, when their only “crime” was not delivering the results teachers, parents and the wider society believe they must –– even if they can’t.

“My daughter cried uncontrollably when the results were released. She did not cry because we had not gone through the likely outcomes; she did because the results were announced in a whole school setting and the plan we had developed was not allowed to work,” explained Hinds-Layne.

“Each child’s name was called in turn, and my daughter’s and three other children’s names were not. They were then informed in a group session at the end they had been
given bursaries.

“The plan we had developed was that she would simply tell her friends she was going to private school. However, she got a taste of what the real objective of the Common Entrance is: to separate the ‘sheep’ from the ‘high-flyers’. I remain livid about the insensitivity of this approach to announcing the results,” the angry mother wrote.

Insensitive indeed!

However, we don’t necessarily agree with her that the entire exam needs to be abolished, even though it is pointless in our view to perpetuate a results system that only serves to ensure that Common Entrance time is the best and worst time in our children’s lives, depending on whose expectations are met.

In fact, at a time when society is searching for answers for some of the rebellious behaviours we see on display by deviant Barbadians, we believe it may well be traced back to their early life experiences, including their early handlers at primary and secondary school. For while there are those who continue to perpetuate the view it matters not what school you go to as long as you work hard when you get there, it has to be said the school system in Barbados today is anything but equal.

Therefore, your opportunities for success are either doubled or shattered, depending on which school you go to, since, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, every Government school does not possess the appropriate learning environment.

And what does a good environment mean? It means that from the time you enter the gate, from the janitor to the headmistress act and behave as caregivers. They are there to pick up our students when they fall; to ensure our students pull up their socks, both literally and figuratively; and to be able to tell when a light retort is needed as against a harsh word.

Such care and attention are what every successful student needs, but sadly not what the majority seems to be getting –– unless one is willing to pay for it.

The onus is therefore on all of us in this immediate post-Common Entrance period to not only celebrate our top achievers, but also commiserate with the underachievers, lest their broken spirits mushroom into huge shadows that will ultimately come back to haunt us in the form of major national disappointment.

Already, our society is saddled with reports of teachers being kicked by students in some of the worst places; students refusing to pick up wrappers when requested to do so; public fights between the leadership of the teachers union and the leadership of the Ministry of Education over salaries and the like –– giving the appearance, at least on the surface, that school life is definitely not what it used to be.

Added to these are equally troubling images of a worrying number of our young men photographed in and out of court daily. Many just out of school, instead of choosing a wholesome path, have opted for a life of crime when our society so desperately needs productive citizens.

Increasingly, our young women are also making the crime headlines, as no one seems able to tell the other to come back. We now have girls fighting each other and posting it on social media –– something which was previously unheard of.

Amid the present adversity, there is tremendous opportunity for us to turn things around; and for that reason, a lot will depend on the passion and commitment of teachers and parents, who are in the current situation of crisis inimical to the “first responders” in an emergency.

Hopefully, Minister Jones will also see it fit to address this worrying predicament.

2 Responses to What of our underachievers, Mr Jones?

  1. Sue Donym June 14, 2016 at 11:10 am

    The educational system is in dire need of review and many areas can be identified for adjustment. For a long time there have been obvious areas of deterioration. Every level and every unit should be examined critically, including resources, qualifications, teacher-pupil ratios, standards, procurement, processes.

    We need to be consistent about what measures are used and honest about the results and corrective measures. While we make international comparisons, we must understand that cultural and physical differences might require different approaches or standards.

    It is also true that we make little accommodation for our high flyers, assuming that the average methods will suffice and that the high achievers will always land on their feet – while it is true that these students often need to be identified, guided and challenged adequately if they are to be kept from their own failures.

    Sadly, much of our underachieving is happening in official positions across Barbados.

  2. freeagent June 14, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    The Barbados educational system is indeed in need of a comprehensive overall, starting with the teachers who are paid to teach our children. In any given week many teachers are out of school attending classes at learning institutions or they are off sick. Many parents have to pay for private lessons, in some cases given by the class teacher, in order for their child(ren) to succeed.
    It would be advantageous if the Ministry of Education would carry our a survey among school children in order to identify some of the problems that they face in school. Many children seem to have learning disabilities and some teachers should be trained to deal with these disabilities. Yes, parents have to play their part in their children’s lives, but the teacher is paid to produce an honest days work for a month’s salary.
    Another problem is that some parents do not allow the teacher to do his/her work. These parents adopt an antagonistic attitude towards the teacher when he/she has to administer discipline.


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