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Call to serve

Chris Gollop

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A SENIOR LAWYER and former Minister of Education is calling on Government to introduce compulsory national service at the tertiary level to help prevent lagging students from falling through the cracks.
And he has got the ear of present Minister of Education Ronald Jones, who does not believe it should be mandatory but agrees the island’s university students ought to give back to society on a voluntary basis.
“The educational system is good, but there is a lot wrong with it. There are too many children at primary school who cannot read or write. It is not that they don’t have the ability,” said attorney Keith Simmons.
“There is also a problem at the secondary school level where the children are leaving too soon. Education at this level must be compulsory up to age 18.
“You see when they leave school without certificates they go on the block and learn what block life has to offer.”
To help alleviate the problem, Simmons, in an interview with the SUNDAY SUN, suggested to Government that all students, on entry into university, should sign a contract in which they were mandated to dedicate three hours to teaching those primary school students who may be falling behind in class.
“Barbados has done more for its people than most countries in the world, when you look at free education right up to university level, free health service and the social services generally. We are not asking anything in return. That is why I am calling for a compulsory national service.
“I am saying that all students attending tertiary institutions should be required to spend three hours a week at primary schools assisting children with the three Rs.”
According to Simmons, with the current student to teacher ratio, teachers could not be expected to do it all.
“In the present system, about two per cent of the students are above average and two per cent below. So when you have a school of 900, the chances are that you would have less than 30 pupils with learning problems.
“But you see teachers are at a disadvantage because their challenge is to get as many students as possible into the so-called best schools. They siphon off the best and work with them, and leave the others behind.
“So I am saying if you have a system whereby we utilise the 3 000 tertiary level students or more, and we must also pull on students at the Barbados Community College and even sixth form students, to give three hours a week to the less than average students.”
Asked to comment on Simmons’ suggestion, Jones said that three weeks ago he had made a similar point during debate on a supplementary to his ministry in the House of Assembly.
“I was looking more at three hours a month based on 9 000 man-hours of the 3 000 students,” Jones said yesterday.
“This one-on-one time would indeed assist the primary school students with learning the three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic.”
The minister said the tertiary level students would have to go through “an orientation” process to be better able to deliver what was required.
“We would first roll it out at primary school level and then extend it to the secondary level.
“But I believe persons must first give back voluntarily rather than it be a coercive mechanism. They should want to give back some time to help society as a whole,” Jones said.