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TONY BEST: Island not slipping in literacy


TONY BEST: Island not slipping in literacy

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THERE IS NO DOUBT that hitting the campaign trail is a certainty in political life.

And that’s true whether it is in the United States, Barbados, Britain, Guyana or any of the other 150-plus parliamentary democracies that dot the international landscape.

Inevitably, town hall meetings, whose history dates back at least 200 years in the US and which give Jane and Joe Citizen access to decision-makers in and out of government become part of the vote-seeking process. Just look at the current contentious presidential campaign that’s pitting Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumptive Democratic Party standard-bearer, against billionaire Republican nominee Donald Trump and the bit of political reality would manifest itself.

So when Ronald Jones, Barbados’ Minister of Education for almost a decade, and George Pilgrim, Democratic Labour Party’s general secretary, visited New York last weekend to attend the annual Barbados Festival Day that attracts thousands of Bajans who live in the northeastern region of the US, it didn’t surprise anyone when the Friends of Barbados (DLP) Association, the ruling party’s arm, arranged a town hall meeting in the undercroft of St Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Brooklyn.

“We wanted to give people in New York a chance to interact with the minister and the party’s administrator,” said Trevor Massiah, who heads the DLP Association in New York.

Interestingly, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley, a former Deputy Prime Minister who also served as Minister of Education, is returning to New York after Crop Over to exchange ideas with Bajans and a town meeting is expected to be an inevitable item on her itinerary. With the general election political cycle constitutionally due in 2018 and New York unofficially labelled the 31st constituency, the parties are beating the political bushes.

During the three-hour session attended by scores of people, Jones covered the proverbial education waterfront. From nursery and elementary schools, the 11-Plus exams, classroom performance of the nation’s youth and the University of the West Indies, to discipline or lack of it in some schools, female-male teacher ratios, robotics, science, technology and spending on education were all topics on Jones’ agenda.

“Students today are performing better than eight years ago,” the minister said at one stage during a graphics-filled presentation.

“Barbados is still counted among the leading countries in the world when it comes to literacy,” he said afterwards. “Barbados is not slipping in literacy.”

During and after the dialogue with Bajans, most of whom are not registered voters back home, Jones said, among other things:

• Single sex schools, once the dominant feature of the school system, are not returning to their former status in the country. Why? He said: “I don’t support single sex schools.”

• The disruptive and unhealthy environmental problem which kept hundreds of students of Combermere School out of the classroom recently is being resolved. Already the odour and other manifestations of the unnerving issue have diminished.

• Thanks to surprise searches of students’ backpacks and book bags by teachers and others, the presence of guns, knives and drugs is not the nightmare it is in some cities, town and villages in the United States.

• By 2018, all youngsters of nursery-school ages will have places in public schools.

• If he had to grade his own ministerial performance since 2008, he would give himself an “A-minus”.

• Harrison College, Queens College, Combermere and St Michael School have maintained their top tier standings as leaders in the classroom. Students of the newer secondary schools, including Deighton Griffith, are doing exceedingly well.

• It is not true that Bajan males are laggards in securing CXC passes.

• Parents must become “partners in education” alongside the classroom professionals.

As for the Festival Day, Jones said the presence of the thousands of Bajans, the music, exhibitions and food was “awesome”, making it a “showcase” of Barbados.

The town hall’s moderator was Shirley Lashley, while Lennox Price, the former Consul-General in New York, delivered the vote of thanks. Dr Donna Hunte-Cox, who succeeded Price in New York, was among those taking part in the meeting.

Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: [email protected]

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