Time to renew our education passport

Getting a good education is like having a valid passport –– for if it has expired it is useless and a new one must be obtained.
– Matthew Farley, principal of the Graydon Sealy Secondary School.


In a week when Minister of Education Ronald Jones would have already highlighted the failings of mathematics teachers in this year’s Common Entrance Exam, it was quite insightful today to hear the observations of retiring principal Matthew Farley on the state of education in Barbados today.

Addressing a graduation ceremony on the theme Education Is The Passport To The Future, Mr Farley made clear his belief that, in the main, we still have “a very sound” learning system on this island. However, he went on to speak of a myriad of challenges underscored by his own suggestion that “while the top 30 per cent of our students may be ready to plunge headlong into a sure future, the majority, [70 per cent], will struggle to function well in our society”.

This for us is a point of real concern. And not just economically either, given that one fifth of the national budget annually already goes towards education.

As the principal rightfully states, there has to be more to our education than just access, enrolment and attendance. We also have no trouble in agreeing with his contention that the quality of our educational product is suspect. In fact, we believe the evidence of our educational failings is everywhere and plain enough to see! Whether it takes the form of basic indifference or worrying indiscipline, poor quality work or waning productivity, there is more than enough cause for concern.

Already, the odds are stacked against administrators and practitioners in the classrooms with primary school children, ages seven and eight, said to be out of control, including some who curse and threaten teachers and principals to their faces with impunity. Then there are also students ages 12 to 16 who are reportedly on a steady diet of marijuana that sees them coming to school daily with a level of violent aggression that drives both fear in their peers and their teachers.

In such a worrying environment, we are grateful for the thought and consideration principal Farley has put into developing a 12-point plan, although his call for the retention of corporal punishment in schools is likely to run into a recurring headwind of criticism from those of us who do not necessarily subscribe to the notion of “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

Let’s hope though that the Ministry of Education will take kindly to at least the suggestion that there be a revamp of our approaches to teacher deployment, particularly at the primary level “to ensure that basic skills in literacy and numeracy are developed and that children leaving primary school are able to read and compute at the basic level”.

Mr Farley also suggests that the school supervision and management need to be strengthened.

We say to Minister Jones and the other education authorities that while they are at it, a complete overhaul of the system from top to bottom, beginning at the Elsie Payne Complex –– the ministry’s headquarters –– may be in order.

And let’s not leave out the parents and their charges.

As Mr Farley would have pointed out today, “too many of our children have difficulty succeeding in our system because their parents’ attitude to education does not suggest that they understand its importance”.

Indeed, “while we believe fundamentally that education is the passport to the future for many of our parents, guardians and children the education passport is non existent or has long expired”.

This mindset needs to change and change immediately. In fact, we all need to renew our education passport. Else, like Mr Farley, we fear that one day coming soon, the block and ghetto culture will fully take over and the thirst for knowledge, already feint and falling –– could be gone for good.

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