Slow learners left behind

The authors of the White Paper on Education Reform (1995) had envisioned the introduction of new initiatives to improve the delivery of quality education in Barbados. One of the major innovations was the establishment of three secondary schools offering an alternative programme which would “be provided with an appropriate curricula, appropriate text books, specialized equipment, training programmes in actual work environments, realistic grants, and suitably trained, considerate and skillful staff.”

This educational innovation was a bold step considering the development of education in Barbados. Traditionally, and even within recent history, the education provision in Barbados is influenced by excellence in the academics. For example, the Barbados Secondary Schools’ Entrance Examination (BSSEE) continues to be the preferred examination for transfer from primary to secondary schooling. This examination’s main goal is to select students to our secondary schools based on at least four years of intense preparation of two subjects, Language Arts and Mathematics. At the end of this preparation, persons are assigned to schools based on the familiar pecking order of those with the highest marks going to Harrison College and Queen’s College until one reaches such schools as Grantley Adams Secondary with the lowest marks.

For many years prior to 1995, children acquiring the lowest marks between zero and 30 in the BSSEE were assigned to a particular group of newer secondary schools which are considered to be at the lower end within the newer secondary group. In fact, principals of those secondary schools were often reluctant to take such children and often had to be forced to do so by the Ministry of Education.

These low achievers were persons that had gone through a full programme of schooling from nursery to class four (11-plus) and exposed to the best set of qualified teachers anywhere in the British Commonwealth. At the primary level, there are persons with Masters and PhD Degrees, in addition to their professional qualifications. The high quality of our teacher stock reflects generally the success of our higher educational institutions. However, at the end of the primary school experience, there are those children who are unable to compete creditably at the BSSEE level.

The general view of Barbadian society is that all children should be academics. They fail to appreciate the fact that all persons are different and endowed with different attributes. The annual educational carnival where the parents of students identify some schools as failures where their children would not be going; where politicians join the circus of offering children gifts as rewards for BSSEE performances; and where the media highlight the ten high flyers, often reinforce the concept of an examination whose focus is to honour those who are best able to manipulate skills applicable to numeracy and literacy.

Some thought, however, must be given to our low-achievers. For students to pass through the primary system without the minimum ability to gain from that curriculum should deserve our special attention. For instance, to experience difficulty in reading or recognizing one or two syllable words or even to write one’s name clearly indicates someone with certain mental challenges. Such persons are often slow in comprehending the regular curriculum. And in all societies there are, and will be, such persons.

The idea in 1995 was to provide a school for such children where their special needs would be met in an environment that would not be influenced by purely cognitive achievement. The reality is that the newer secondary schools were and are overcrowded, thus they are faced with administrative challenges; disciplinary problems; and a continuing curriculum uncertainty as a consequence of attempting to satisfy the varying abilities of students. In my opinion, this environment could not and cannot be the ideal for very low achievers.

It is within this context that Dr Leonard Shorey at the time remarked: “Government in general and the Minister of Education and her Ministry are therefore to be commended for their recognition and acceptance of the need to make specific provision for a significant portion of youngsters who are otherwise likely to get lost in the shuffle.”

It is fairly widespread knowledge that most secondary school teachers do not see the very slow learners as belonging to their institutions.

Unfortunately, the birth of the Alma Parris Secondary was welcomed by some sections of the education community with ridicule, to the extent that the students of the new school were often harassed to and from school. The concept of the new school was even attacked by the Barbados Union Teachers. Hear the President of the BUT, Ronald Jones: “We have already heard an acronym being attached to the school, because some people were calling it the Alternative Secondary School, and you can come up with the acronym.”

A prominent educator at the time, Mathew Farley, in defence of the new school, had this to say: “Unfortunately, the school has already been given a bad public among some professionals who seem to have some crystal ball by which they can forecast the future failure or success of a school.” He went on: “One of the things about experimenting with alternative strategies of delivering education is that, since every system has its attendant flaws, reform tantamounts to choosing the system with the least error.”

Writing in support of the school in 1995, I stated: “If the school is to succeed, the Minister must herself take a personal interest in the school in terms of professional support for teachers and adequate material resource allocation. She must also ensure that the school’s skilled-based curriculum is never compromised if the school is to truly offer an opportunity for those who were unable to pass the BSSEE. Their education must provide them with the skills for the job market or self-employment.”

The question must therefore be asked: Did the Ministry of Education pay sufficient attention to the development of the institution, bearing in mind Barbadians’ blind obsession to academic institutions? A recent example is the policy now to place a sixth form at every secondary school in Barbados.  Will these children being forced to leave the Alma Parris be adequately cared for within these new sixth form institutions? Also, at this time with the turmoil being exhibited at these schools, will the special needs of these children be adequately addressed?

I am personally disappointed at the closure of the Alma Parris Secondary. The Minister’s reasons for the closure appear very unconvincing, especially when he stated that: “Anytime you have slow learners and children with special needs they should be given the best that any system has to offer, because they are already starting from a low threshold.”

This statement clearly suggests a lack of institutional support, a situation that I feared and expressed at the establishment of the school. My conclusion is that Barbadian society continues to opt for mainstreaming, with the BSSEE as its symbol of excellence, paying only ‘lip service’ to the needs of the very slow learners.

 (Dr. Dan C. Carter is an educational historian and author.)

14 Responses to Slow learners left behind

  1. Sonia Seale
    Sonia Seale July 8, 2017 at 10:04 am

    It is not only the slow learners that are being left behind. Some of the children in the mainstream schools are also being left behind or not allowed to pursue courses that they desire because of something that exist in the secondary schools called “banding”. Imagine a child has the natural gift of being very good at art and would like to embark on a career along those lines.The subjects are so banded that the child would not be able to do art because it is banded with other subjects that he or she would also like to do.This does not only happen with art but with many other subjects causing children not to be able to choose the subjects that they would have the most success with. This process starts at the fourth form level and appears to be structured to facilitate the teachers and not the students. Why do the subjects have to be banned in such a way that the teachers get what they want but the students suffer?. I thought that a better way would be to collect the choices made by the students and then arrange and structure them to be student friendly and not the way that is being done now with the students having to fit themselves in the teacher friendly structure. This is something that needs to be addressed . If it is not addressed the mainstream schools would also continue to fail the students. The reason the Alma Parris School failed is because the school did not meet the needs of the children. Why were they still expected to learn the regular academic subjects when it was already proven that they were not capable of doing so, hence the reason they were at that school. If the name of the school was the problem, then they could have changed the name like they did with other schools.They could have identified some one and name it that person’s technical school, if that would have erased the so called “stigma”. The students that were sent there should have been taught English and Arithmetic and all the other subjects should have practical subjects and the appropriate and qualified tutors employed to teach them. Barbados would never have all academics but we could do very well if more emphasis is placed on more practical subjects which would allow every child to be the best that he or she can be.

    • Kim Gaskin
      Kim Gaskin July 8, 2017 at 10:25 am

      U said it much better dan I wud have…
      My sentiments. ..

    • Alison Hoyte-small
      Alison Hoyte-small July 8, 2017 at 10:58 am

      True, true, true. Banding seems to be created to churn out (for the lack of a better term) students geared towards certain ‘good’ careers. Many students compromise on their passion/dream careers due to as you say all the subjects they love being lumped in the same band. Sad to see it continue despite the angst over the years. Then to hear about the well-rounded student and brain drain. Put measures in place to have a diverse set of careers to provide gainful employment for ALL.

  2. Dave Person
    Dave Person July 8, 2017 at 10:38 am

    if 2 people take the 11 plus and one get 92% AND THE OTHER GET 29% why wanna thing they should get the sames syllabus to follow?

    • Bobby Gilkes
      Bobby Gilkes July 8, 2017 at 10:39 am

      Are they not preaching that all schools equal are they not saying that all teach the same thing ….. maybe that why ….. that just my opinion on it doa…

    • Sonia Seale
      Sonia Seale July 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Because we are goinm

    • Sonia Seale
      Sonia Seale July 8, 2017 at 10:42 am

      Because we are going backwards at a fast pace.

  3. Wendell Kirton
    Wendell Kirton July 8, 2017 at 10:44 am

    It’s sad slow learners are people too

  4. Lauraine Clarke
    Lauraine Clarke July 8, 2017 at 11:00 am

    To be honest ,I think the minister of education Mr Jones got a fry brain.

  5. Morris Redman July 8, 2017 at 11:54 am

    More than 50 years ago when I was when I was s a teacher in Barbados, a friend, of mind remarked that he had no intention of becoming a teacher, preacher public servant. My fried studied Caty an Guilds in technology and his expertise e and training took him to Canada, Saudi Arabia and t USA for a well aid career in satellite communications. Since this time in Barbados we no longer a sugar industry that need labour intensive workers, we have developed a tourist industry that gave us new jobs. But our education system ad not changes other than the introduction of some computers in our schools. We need to look ate big picture an reform the entire education system to cater forte new jobs of the future. As one expert noted ;
    :With the world changing as fast as it is – industries rising, evolving and crashing; technology leading to more efficient, effective ways of doing everything; globalization interconnecting us all; and a whole new generation emerging and entering the workforce – how do we best ensure young people are prepared for the world of work from here forward? Keep in mind that along with the jobs being phased out, countless more jobs don’t even exist yet.
    To create employment for those who are graduating, it’s important for us to review a system that has become antiquated. Even more critical, however, is to note that our current models of education, career planning and job searching are not just in need of a facelift – we need a major paradigm shift in how we think about training our emerging workforce and the skills they need to have to be relevant, let alone have a chance at being wildly successful.
    But we do not need to wait for this shift to start teaching the new rules of success every day, in every forum, and every possible platform and channel available to us. It can be done in simple conversations or formalized programs – everyone can play a role in training our young people; they are, after all, our kids, cousins, neighbors, friends, colleagues and employees. The bottom line is that we can all ensure this emerging generation is primed for success, and it’s in our best interest to do so. Our future depends on it.

  6. nanci July 8, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    the ministry of education is saying, if you want your middle learner or slow learner to choose the subjects they want, then send them to evening classes to have them learn those courses. I know many kids at average learning skills, wouldve love to take courses such as biology, chemistry and other sciences but they were not in the A level bracket. Some of those kids who the ministry of education looked over, many of them have excelled in learning today. It seems like the ministry of education only want to invest in the high academic learners. Take for instance the lower secondary schools, some teachers dont even like to teach at some of those schools. They look down on the kids from elementary level, and because they kids are not engaged in learning, they display all kinds of destructive behaviors

  7. Francia MATTHEWS July 8, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Today when graduation day for the first set of special needs individual that graduated from Special Olympics Outreach and Skills and Training Programme. Sadly, some still need lots more help, but where do their go from there, probably back home and lost in the “great education system”. Slow learners and special need children and adults are people too, and given the chance I am convince would do a better job then most able body persons. Give us a chance to prove the doubters wrong.

  8. Bajan boy July 9, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Means next elections we got tyo leave he BEHIND literally and figuratively…

  9. ImmaBajan July 9, 2017 at 8:05 pm

    I Agree also i don’t think two subject accounts for your ability at anything i might be excellent at chemistry and agriculture yes i need a basic understanding of math and english but that doesn’t make that 92% smarter than me why not base it on a multitude of subjects that test my ability to think critically and creatively my personality comes in to factor, also come on your telling our children they are stupid if they don’t pass for an old school. let it be define by an average and then i go to secondary school we gotta change up a bit though things are going to be really different 10 years from now and the Barbados best resource is the children, the youth and only being trained to fit in to the factory of Barbados as an International or Tourism resource is sad why not teach children how to create and how to be resourceful because we just end up usually working for some company Bajan rarely owns and don’t understand or care about where we live .


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