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IN THE CANDID CORNER – The missing ace of NACE report


Matthew D. Farley

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A revolutionary concept cannot work in a non-revolutionary framework. – The Rt  Hon. J.M.G.M. Adams (1981)I wish to commend the reconstituted commission for submitting its report as was its mandate. It is important to note that the recommendations are not yet policy and therefore educators and the public are free to critique them. In this article I wish speak to what I will call “the missing ace(s)” which had they been included would have rendered the NACE package complete.My disappointment has to do with the extent to which most of the views which were ventilated at the townhall meetings, though mentioned in the reportage, are not reflected in the recommendations. As someone suggested to me in an email, the recommendations are those of NACE and certainly do not capture the spirit and reflect most of the deep-seated concerns raised. I would not suggest as others have that NACE addressed its own agenda and abandoned that of the populace. Where is the comprehensive proposal for full zoning? I agree that children should be given the opportunity to explore non-traditional areas. Does NACE intend to take us back to the days when some students were told that they failed the Eleven-Plus? If this is the intention then it is retrograde step, since for years we have move ahead on the premise that once there are places at the secondary level to accommodate all the secondary age cohort, all students should advance regardless of their score. While I laud the notion that students should not be separated according to marks and that allocation should be based on mixed abilities, the proposal falls short of full zoning and as such will shift the “pecking order” from the national to a zonal level. It will not bring an end to the social comparison of children and schools. If NACE had played this card right, this could have been one of the aces that would have given the report more credibility. The “bright” and “duncy” syndrome will be perpetuated. The proposal that schools should be allocated into three zones is fraught with all kinds of problems.
QuestionsWhile I admit that there are no problem-free solutions, there are many questions which this report raises and leaves unanswered. On what basis will students be allocated to the schools in each zone? But the card that the Advisory Commission played really badly relates to the issue of discipline. Its position on this matter fails to capture the sentiments of  our culture and society. Our school system does not have history of abuse of students in schools. The sentiments expressed are foreign to our national psyche. The majority of Barbadians do not support child abuse but they believe in firm discipline which may include corporal punishment both in our homes and in our schools. The report erroneously speaks of “harsh and severe punitive measures” as if this was the norm in our schools. It seems to me that NACE might be flying the kite of UNICEF which has sought to imposed foreign models of classroom management and control that failed miserably elsewhere. What is ludicrous, is that the report speaks of the retention of corporal punishment in one breadth and in seemingly the same speaks to its eventual abolition. It seems as though NACE is part of an agenda to render our schools ungovernable. Last but not least, why would NACE, at a time of globalisation in which the products of our schools compete for jobs around the world, want to limit the horizons of our young people? Why should those who are eligible for Scholarships be confined to studying in our region and be deprived of the rich multi-cultural experience associated with universities in Europe and North America.  My disappointment with the NACE report is that it does not capture the bona fide mood and sensibility of the Barbadian educational psyche. Its voice, tone and intent seem alien to the passionate positions taken by many Barbadians at the town hall meetings. Yes, there were heard and some were recorded but the key recommendations are essentially those of the members of the National Advisory Commission on Education. Indeed when the pack of recommendation is perused, the key ones have been skirted and the “ace” is truly missing from the NACE report. It is my hope that Cabinet will not be duped into accepting proposals and recommendations which do not represent the best established position on which our otherwise excellent system has been built.
• Matthew D. Farley is an educator, secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education and a social commentator.

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