An educator's wise, honest thoughts

Monday, July 02, 2018

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We join the applause for Ms Stacey Reynolds, principal of Mt Alvernia High School in Montego Bay, St James.

Mt Alvernia has reportedly moved from 18th to sixth in a 2018 ranking of high schools based on Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results done by a private entity.

No doubt Ms Reynolds is proud of her school's elevation in the ranking but she is clearly a thoughtful and honest person, not a hypocrite.

We are told that Ms Reynolds believes, and has said, that this business of ranking, schools on the basis of exam passes is unfair.

The system, she tells us, doesn't take into account “variables” such as teacher-to-student ratio, and the academic level of students entering individual high schools following the entrance exam, Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT).

Ms Reynolds is urging those who take on the task of ranking high schools to look at the “intake” since, in many cases, responsible leaders and teachers in high schools who are trying to get the best from their students must spend a lot of time on remedial work.

Says she: “So if I get kids at 20 per cent (GSAT or entrance performance level), how can I get that child ready (for CSEC exams) in five years when I need to go back and cover primary school work?”

She goes further by making a simple point — missed by many Jamaicans — that education isn't only about traditional academics, it is also about skills training and the preparation of young people to cope with the real world.

Ms Reynolds tells us that educators may be able to “add value” to their charges by successfully preparing them for CSEC exams. Equally, educators also “add value” by teaching a child a trade (skill).

Says she: “It doesn't mean that he (who learns a trade) is nothing. It doesn't mean that the school he attends is less.”

Those high school graduates who were introduced to skill sets such as carpentry, auto mechanics, food preparation, clothes designing, et al, and have gone on to successful careers in such areas can easily relate to Ms Reynolds' comments.

Indeed, the teaching of sporting skills in schools is also of increasing value, for the simple reason that sports is among the fastest-growing service sectors globally.

Ms Reynolds makes another telling point we think worthy of repetition: “What I think people need to realise is that, this ranking thing, it hurts children more than anything else.”

It's an uphill struggle because of Jamaica's economic constraints. Yet, we believe leaders in education are committed to bringing greater equity at all levels by seeking, for example, adequate laboratories and other material/personnel resources for all schools; and also the eventual removal of the shift system, dismissively tagged at the folk level as “half-day school” .

We trust that the replacement of GSAT by the Primary Exit Profile will also advance the cause.

As the Ministry of Education and others press ahead, they should bear in mind the thinking of educators such as Ms Reynolds who are on the ground and understand everyday realities.

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