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IN THE CANDID CORNER – Black schools are dying


Matthew D. Farley

IN THE CANDID CORNER – Black schools are dying

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As long as there is freedom of choice . . . and people hold precious what private schools give . . . these schools will not only continue but flourish.
– Elizabeth Pink (1991).
Private secondary schools in Barbados have a long distinguished and checkered history and a tradition of solid contribution to education and national development. Prior to 1965, such schools received no financial assistance from the Government.
Such assistance was based on the premise that while all children were required by law to attend secondary school on completing primary education, the public secondary schools could not accommodate all.
As public secondary educational opportunities expanded, the need for private secondary schools diminished. In 1977 to 1978 there were 18 approved independent secondary schools with a roll of 5 490.
Two decades later, the number of schools had dropped to 12 with a total roll of 1 740 (Gerald Rose). In spite of this decline, the fact remains that the Government still cannot accommodate all children of secondary school age in public secondary schools.
It must be stated that the private secondary educational sector is not a homogeneous entity. While there is academic ranking across the public secondary sector, the pecking order in the private sector is along socio-economic lines. But which schools are dying?
At the higher end the schools benefit from the wealth and affluence of the parents and guardians and other benefactors through various trust funds. These social or rich schools along with the church schools continue to hold their own in spite of the odds.
Notably, private secondary schools at the lower socio-economic end of the spectrum are the ones that are dying. Invariably, the students who attend these “dying schools” are black, poor and in many cases are underachieving. Owing to their socio-economic status they cannot afford to pay the higher fees at the other end.
As such these schools struggle and Government assistance, which is grossly inadequate and has not been increased since 1984, forms their main income.
What is the level of support which the Government currently provides for independent or private secondary schools? First, it should be stated that the current level of support has remained unchanged since 1984. Bursaries at the value of $125 per term are awarded with the money being paid directly to the school.
If the school fees exceed this amount the parent is required to pay the difference. It is interesting that while the Government was in the habit of increasing the value of the bursary, as happened between 1965 and 1984 when the value moved from $25 to $125. In 1996, provisions were made for the grant of 2 900 bursaries. One thousand five hundred of them were taken at a total cost of $562 500.
In addition to the bursaries, the Government, since 1984, has been paying one teacher for every 40 pupils up to a maximum of 240, and thereafter one teacher for every 80 pupils. In 1996, 42 teachers were receiving salary grants. The pupil-teacher ratio which formed the basis for the teacher grants also changed from 1:200 in 1965 to 1:100 in 1971; 1:75 in 1977; and 1:60 in 1981.
The Government also offers subventions of $4 000 for specific subject areas in order to encourage schools to provide a balanced curriculum. This also moved from $600 for science in 1965 to the current level. Other areas which benefit include domestic science, woodwork, art and craft and bookbinding. There has been no change in these subventions since 1984. There is also an annual grant of $1 000 for remedial education, also unchanged since 1984.
While the Government cannot be accused of not assisting private secondary schools, it might have to explain why for 27 years there has been a moratorium on the level of support for these schools, many of which have died during the period. Against this backdrop, the Government’s philosophy of seeing education as the right of every citizen and its notion of education being free from nursery to tertiary seems not applicable here.
Parental choice and preference aside, students who are granted bursaries, whose value is way below the level of fees required, are being denied genuine access to free secondary education and are being deprived of their right to education to some degree.
There is strong feeling within the sector that the Government seems fairly comfortable presiding over the death of this important sector. While we have been promoting the notion that “each one matters”, it seems that if your Common Entrance performance falls short and you are awarded a bursary to these dying schools, genuine free secondary education will not be available to you.
For many it smacks of “unintentional” educational discrimination to allow “poor black” schools in the private sector to die.
• Matthew D. Farley is a secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum On Education, and a social commentator.

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