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IN THE CANDID CORNER – A school-ready mix

Matthew D. Farley

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Teaching is not a profession, it’s a passion. – Unknown
We are within sight of the commencement of the new academic year 2010-2011. Minister of Education Ronald Jones has given us the assurance that the turbulent waters up north have been calmed; the machinery is well oiled for the bell to be rung, signalling the beginning of the new school year.
The summer recess normally sees Government spending large sums of money to spruce up the school infrastructure. We saw our high-profile minister gingerly descending a ramp from a prefab unit at Hillaby Turner’s Hall Primary School.
If the cautious expression on his face, the clear effort to achieve balance as he extends both arms and his shoe-tip first landing are any indication of his expectations for the new year, then we can project that it will be one of cautious optimism.
As we prepare to resume classes, we look back on a summer of cultural highs and lows, of violence and bloodshed at the hands of reckless motorists and gun-toting youth and some fireworks that threaten to light up our political affairs.
Among the highs has been the excellent creativity of our artistes, producing some great music. The controversy which seems so much to be part of the festival left some worrisome signs on our socio-cultural landscape.
In one instance, a female artiste had to be escorted by personnel from the Task Force after being booed and the maestro of the calypso artform was ridiculed for being the best in the Pic-O-De-Crop competition. No wonder that a NISE [National Initiative for Service Excellence] survey found us to be less than nice in our interaction with both visitors and one another.
As we get ready for the new school year, there is a mix of issues, some of which are like the recurring decimal. According to a Midweek Nation report (August 25), Government will be seeking to “reinforce” the ban on cellphones in our schools. The minister noted that this ban had been in force for years but was “not fully carried out”.
My own concern has been the extent to which we have been vacillating on this and other issues in education and throughout the wider society. I am making another clarion call for consistency across schools. It is this lack of consistency that has been the undoing of our efforts in many areas across the country.
Long overdue
Just over a year ago, Government announced its intention to prohibit schoolchildren in uniforms from travelling on public service vehicles. This was a welcome move that was long overdue and applauded by many.
I have not myself seen any improvement in the sector. I still observe the recklessness, the lewdness and the general indiscipline that characterise these vehicles as they ply their trade. Yet we find ourselves in the embarrassing situation where by “lifting the ban” we have now thrown our children at a very impressionable age back into “the filthy muck and mire” that runs counter to all that our schools uphold.
How unfortunate!
On another level, while the system moves to put a new chief education officer and a new deputy chief education officer in place, principals at the primary level are lamenting their lack of input into the selection of their staff.
President Ivan Clarke is insisting that the selections made by the Ministry of Education do not meet the needs of the schools. That this mismatch is happening at the primary level is no cause for comfort. The dialogue must continue to rectify this situation.
Two years ago, all secondary schools enforced a common dress code and there has been significant improvement in the manner in which our students deport themselves.
Parents must be reminded that the dress code remains in place and students must be told that school is not a fashion show and they are not going there to “look sexy”. Students who adhere to the rules and codes of dress do better academically and have fewer problems with authority figures and the law long after they have graduated.
Congratulations to all primary and secondary age cohorts and to the teachers whose hard work has ensured the advancement of their educational career. Not only must we applaud the achievements of the 50 Scholarship and Exhibition winners, but all our children need encouragement to strive to be the best that they can be through school and in life thereafter.
After 37 years as an educator, I am still passionately “fussy” and excited about the new school year experience. I wish both students and educators a productive and enjoyable academic year 2010-2011 and remind you, like Ralph Sockman, that “the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder”.
Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education, and a social commentator.