A level playing field for schools the only solution to the 'agony'

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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Despite various iterations of the placement tool for assigning students to secondary-level educational institutions since Independence — be it Common Entrance Examinations, Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), and the new Primary Exit Profile (PEP) — none has been able to reduce the annual overflowing of angst and malaise experienced by pupils and their families.

The sad reality is that our people continue to pin hopes of success for youngsters on the high schools to which they are assigned.

Truth be told, support for this opinion goes beyond anecdotal evidence.

In spite of this, enough hasn't been done, in a targeted way, to create even the veneer of equity of the offerings across the nation's schools.

There are too many institutions still crying for assistance in mounting libraries as well as science and computer laboratories, which these days are crucial to the adequate preparation of students to sit the regional tests offered by the Caribbean Examinations Council and the other certifying bodies.

Such cries have withstood changes in nomenclature — comprehensive high, technical high, all-age — teacher allocation, textbook updates, and all the other tweaks and tinkering that successive ministers of education have pursued as policy objectives.

The administrators must now arrive at the place at which it becomes evident that the system will never attain the requisite level of acceptance and respect from Jamaicans until all students are given a truly equitable opportunity for educational success, irrespective of the high schools to which they are sent.

The road to this level playing field does not have the surface of the smooth north coast highway. And even traversing the turfs under construction across the Corporate Area may present less of a challenge. Still, the stakeholders responsible for the control and form of Jamaica's education programme must undertake the journey to an equitable system.

There are signs that some surface preparation is being pursued, but a stated vision of the steps to be taken must be articulated. This kind of management by objectives is not beyond the administrators. It just requires the will. The nation saw it on full display when the administrators committed to implementing PEP amid the challenge of some educators.

Former Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid made some strides to this end, and recent news of some $7.98 billion being assigned to primary and junior high schools along with specific-purpose grants and vouchers are parts of the working pieces. But this is just the beginning.

Rather that yet another change to the testing and placement tools, education administrators should establish system-wide standards for each school and work with the institutions' leaders on a region-by-region basis until the offering to students in all public schools at the high school level attain the benchmark.

Thereafter, it will truly be up to the students to make the best of the arrangements in place for them based on their needs and not the annual perturbation on the placement of students followed by the mad rush to secure transfers.

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