Thu | Aug 6, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | Taking the time to catch up

Published:Monday | June 29, 2020 | 12:14 AM

I am happy that Karl Samuda has been confirmed as minister of education. He will listen, and he knows what he does not know. Some of the surly uber-tribalists who coveted the post need time to learn humility and gain experience.

My hunch is that the prime minister wanted to hold on to education for as long as it took to comprehend (and deal with?) the extent of looting and hubris which existed before. Because what keeps dribbling out of the parliamentary committees about the ministry, some of its agencies and the Caribbean Maritime University is enough to topple a government in a self-respecting democracy.

Now that he is firmly in place, I have a report to make to the minister and a plea to make to him and all school principals.

Recently, in one of the best primary schools in the country, the principal and assistants have been interviewing the students who will be coming from pre-primary institutions to grade one in September. The conclusion is that many, if not most, are simply not ready for their new experience. Their early language and numeracy skills are wanting and their social capacities are underdeveloped.

These are the consequences of inadequate parenting, under-resourced early-childhood experiences, and the three month hiatus (six months by September) caused by the virus. The situation is going to replicate itself in all schools and at all grade levels, but most critically at the entering grades for primary and secondary schools.

NOT CUTTING IT

Mr Minister, principals, four weeks of assessment of each child at the beginning of the school year will not cut it. Repetition of this truth is necessary for it to sink in to those leaders who are in denial. It makes no sense to follow the curriculum when any student, let alone a majority, does not have the academic and behavioural skills to learn at the new level. We have been doing that for years, blaming each other for poor outcomes and fooling our children to believe that have achieved enough by dressing them up for ‘graduation’.

Please let us stop now. Especially in these crisis times when, despite whatever sweetener Nigel Clarke offers before back to school, this will be a hard and expensive year for education. Further, however inadequate GSAT and PEP have been, high schools are going to be receiving students this year with much less empirical data as to their competencies.

So minister, please consider mandating that all schools, certainly at grades one and seven, and other levels as necessary, take the entire first term to remediate the shortcomings of each student, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and social interaction. Do so and the grade-appropriate material can be accomplished between next January and June.

This strategy need not cost anything more than the present budget properly applied. And it would be a huge blow to the inbred system of educational apartheid, since weaker students and schools would have been intentionally assessed and individual deficiencies identified, and hopefully addressed.

Making sure that we achieve the objective of taking the majority of our striving students off the conveyor belt of underachievement caused by automatic promotion, ought to become a national task, an integral aspect of COVID-19 recovery.

I can remember the verve, the whole-of-society enthusiasm, when the National Literacy Campaign was launched in the early 1970s under the inspired leadership of Michael Manley, Dr Mavis Gilmour, Drs Franklin Johnston, Joyce Robinson, and Danny Williams. Recently, Dr Renee Rattray dreamed of persons in the business and state institutions volunteering time to help teachers in the challenging task of academic and social catch-up in schools. Also, Christian churches own or sponsor almost half of schools in Jamaica. Members should see involvement in these schools as a major part of their religious witness.

There could hardly be a more essential, immediate and affordable national task. Please explain why the task force dealing with recovery does not appear to be giving prime attention to education and training?

Minister Samuda: with your pedigree of cross-society and cross-party acceptance, spearheading such an effort should be your legacy and the biggest gift we all could offer ourselves.

Please encourage us all to take the time to catch up.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.