EDITORIAL: Educate all students to high standard
OVER THE NEXT WEEK this island’s primary schools will be in the spotlight, with most of them holding their annual graduations. It will be a period for exhortations and recommendations to the students – unfortunately, often in long and uninspiring presentations.
Fortunately, this season of speeches has started off on a strong note with one from university lecturer Dr Ian Marshall. He highlighted a number of pertinent issues affecting both our primary and secondary schools. Other speakers need to explore his thesis.
Dr Marshall made two points which we can ignore at our peril. Too many students of low quality are being pushed out of the primary school and into the secondary level, he said. But these below par students must follow the same syllabus and compete five years on in diverse environments without having benefited from the requisite interventions.
These are well known facts which have been persistently overlooked by educators and education administrators. Much of the emphasis has been on statistics: numbers sent to level one and level two schools; performance in Caribbean Examinations Council exams, and scholarship and exhibition winners. Too often leaders in education at all levels have used numbers to mislead. Much of it has to do with trying to preserve or build a legacy.
Our education system has long been touted as being of a very high standard, yet it cannot guarantee that all our students are educated to a high standard. The reality is that there are persistent and deep achievement gaps in our schools. This underscores why this country needs to have education reform because our static practices, both in strategies and policies, have propped up a broken system. The ideal approach would be for education reform to be under constant review.
Although finance is a major challenge in meeting our educational needs, and more so at this time, money cannot be the only requirement in instituting change in education. Greater emphasis must be placed on early childhood education, on better use of technology and catering to those with special needs – from dyslexia interventions to smaller classrooms. This provides potent justification for reducing the spend on higher education if we are to fix the myriad problems being encountered at the foundation level.
There is no denying that Barbados needs urgent and drastic education reform, and this must be led by decisive leaders. We must have measureable performance management supported by a higher level of accountability across the entire system. In tandem with these required improvements must come continuous teacher professional development. There must be different thinking and a new approach from the National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.
Our primary and secondary school system must shift from the preoccupation with classification and categorisation. The emphasis must now be on a quality education for all, ensuring no one is left behind.