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JEFF BROOMES: Praise for Jones on graduation, but . . .


JEFF BROOMES: Praise for Jones on graduation, but . . .

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MINISTER OF EDUCATION Ronald Jones is an enigma to me. One week, you love him, the next you are left to question where he came from. This week, he is at the top of my love list. I commend you, sir, on your stance on graduations, but I have a caveat.

For several years, I have spoken out not only on the costs of graduations but also on their focus and the discriminating structure that some schools allow to develop.  This should be a happy time for all children and their parents without stress and embarrassment.

The idea of children having to pay $150 at primary and between $300 and $500 at secondary to attend their graduation is ludicrous! It often puts undue pressure on many parents who have to sacrifice more important and necessary things.

While the minister is right for his criticism and earns my support, he must understand that he leads policy.  I do not think that it is appropriate for him to be shouting from the media podium.  As leader, he should call principals into his office and articulate a clear policy on graduations.

This is not interference as some would say. The ministry sets policy while, school leaders use creative skills to tactically implement such policy.  In many schools, there are some teachers who accept responsibility for graduation and expect them to match some pie in the sky focus that they have.  Objection from the principal brings controversy!

There are two areas that should be driven by policy and which will rein in costs. Graduation at the pre-tertiary level should never be seen as academic- based.  At this stage, it is simply a matter of moving on from one level to another. Indeed, CXC results that define success are not back at this time!

Not right

The notion at some secondary schools insisting that graduations should only be for those who are fortunate enough to have been offered an extra year in fifth form is wrong.  That was one of my first areas of conflict at my most recent school. 

All students (approximately 160) finishing fifth form should be part of the graduation and not only the 40 or so who return for another year.

Finally, graduations should not be confused with the practised social event that we are seeing being hosted.  The school hall or a nearby church facility can host all graduations.  The social aspect of it, either fancy lunch or dinner, can be arranged by the student leaders at locations of their choice. 

I saw that very well coordinated at Alexandra, where I attended all graduations but no social gatherings that followed.  The cost of gowns and other paraphernalia could be met by in-school fund-raising.  This could be supplemented by small student contributions when necessary.

Ostentation is a fact of life in our contemporary societies. Unfortunately, it too often negatively impacts schools and the most vulnerable students.  Leadership and established policy must become true partners in protecting the innocent and constraining wastage.

It is necessary for the Ministry of Education to have a clear strategic plan that serves as a guide for all school leaders.  I was surprised to the point of being disgusted when I read that the president of the secondary principals had effectively ducked the issue.  The situation is worse at secondary than primary!

Mr Minister, you are on the right track, and there are other specific happenings in schools that, if not stopped, will condemn and sideline too many children.  I implore you to check and check closely, then take the necessary actions that put our children and our country as top priority.

Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser
who also served as vice president of the BCA and director of the WICB.
Email: [email protected]