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THE CANDID CORNER: A few regrets

Matthew Farley

THE CANDID CORNER: A few regrets

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“Education is the vision of the ideal world we seek to create.” – Northrop Frye.

For just over four decades I was privileged to be part of the conceptualisation, delivery, evaluation and management of education in Barbados. I remain eternally thankful and indebted to the Government of Barbados and the public service for affording me the opportunity to be part of what is still a good educational system.

But in spite of all the above, as I begin to experience retirement and learn its nuances and principles, there are some regrets as I reflect on my tenure.

I regret that in spite of numerous promises by successive Governments to significantly reform or abolish the Barbados Secondary Schools Entrance Examination (BSSEE) or what has easily become a sacred cow, remains unslaughtered. By extension, I regret that even the best advice from top advisors including Professor Emeritus Earle Newton and Dr Anthony “Rocky” Layne among others, has never been acted upon. I regret that in spite of the move by the Caribbean Examinations Council to devise a regional exit examination for primary schools, Barbados is yet to embrace any notion of change in respect of how we move students from the primary to secondary level.

I regret that we continue to make the mistake of robbing the classroom of its best practitioners by the practice of moving excellent practitioners into management. Unfortunately, because of limited promotional opportunities many good classroom practitioners are forced out of their professional niche.

In many instances, the system suffers. I regret that the proposal made to the Ministry of Education some years ago to establish to post of master teacher lies dormant in a file somewhere in the corridors of central administration on Constitution Road. The idea would see a higher salary level for the person so dubbed as “master teacher”, thereby encouraging excellent classroom practitioners to remain in the classroom where they are needed most.

I regret that in spite some strides in terms of educational provisions for students with special needs, with the exception of the gifted, this group is still largely treated as if they are not as important as other primary age cohorts. I acknowledge the Mount St Vincent initiative which saw approximately 75 teachers being trained up to the master’s level in what has been referred to as inclusionary practices or at other times as special needs education. It is unfortunate that many of these masters graduates are not now deployed in areas where the system can benefit from their expert skills and knowledge. The vision of a new dawn for children with special needs has been delayed, but hopefully, not totally lost.

I regret that it is still possible for a student to pass through a 12-year educational span and at the end of it find him or herself unable to read.  An analysis of the performance of students in the open-ended component of the BSSEE suggests that we have a serious problem in the areas of reading and comprehension.

For me it raises a number of searching questions as to what is happening at the lower levels of the primary school where early and prerequisite literacy are to be established. Are our best teachers being deployed to teach reading and comprehension in Infants A, Infants B and Class One in our primary schools?

Are we sacrificing the need to teach early literacy as we focus on Class 3 and 4 in preparation for the BSSEE. It is my firm contention that in many of our primary schools we need to look carefully at what is happening in the teaching of early numeracy and literacy skills.

I regret that we are allowing foreign ideas of discipline and child-rearing practices to influence how we ‘do school’ at the risk of rendering our schools unmanageable.

I regret that even though we have embraced technology integration principles many of our classrooms, both at the primary and secondary, levels appear very much as they did 30 years ago. It is analogous to transporting the latest computer on a donkey cart on a four-lane highway. I still await the construction of the two new secondary schools that were to be built long before the recession showed up.

I regret that that residential institution to meet the needs of those maladjusted and disruptive students who cannot function in a mainstream school is yet to be implemented.

Finally, in terms of my last attachment in local education in my capacity as principal of the Graydon Sealy Secondary School, formerly the Garrison Secondary, I painfully regret that the vision for continuing education through the Garrison Evening Academy has not been sustained. Whatever reasons have been tendered for this are irrelevant in the face of a clear need among constituents in the Prime Minister’s constituency and the environs to obtain additional opportunities and training. What a tragedy!

But overall and in spite of these regrets, I fully appreciate the chance God gave me to serve.

I wish the system well.

• Matthew Farley is a former secondary school principal, chairman of the National Forum on Education and a social commentator.