Need for public debate on education

Winford James, a University of the West Indies lecturer, writing in the Trinidad Express of May 10, 2012, reveals to us some of the woes and frustrations experienced by teachers in Trinidad as related by a certain secondary school teacher.

According to him, she lamented that: “She was called upon to teach students who brought no text books to school, came to class when they wanted; walked out of class at will; shouted randomly at classmates when the teacher was talking to the class; lay their heads on tables in sleep or lethargy, held conversations with other students passing noisily along the corridor; refused to answer questions from her; held their own conversations and paid no attention whatever to her.”

She described these delinquent students by and large as “dunce and disgusting.”

Though we may feel that the situation in our schools is not as bad, many of the things described by this teacher are very familiar to Grenada teachers.

Dr James observed that these “dunce and disgusting “youngsters were created by their low socio-economic homes and communities, which conditioned them to be perpetually low-achievers and “imprison them in a low life of inertia, frustration, despair and bacchanal.”

In a similar kind of social milieu, one of poor parenting, low motivation and a growing drug culture, we have elected to introduce a method of moving children from our primary to our secondary schools, which amounts to the introduction in our education system of universal secondary education, an initiative which on my mind has not been adequately discussed within the education system, far less in the nation as a whole.

It is a pity that the key players  in our education system has failed to see that this occasion provided the opportunity for a great public education debate, something that has been needed here for a long time.

We need urgently a public debate about our educational landmarks, what we have attained over the years, what we are educating our children for, the coming life skills curriculum, etc.

To date, neither our Ministry of Education nor our public media have been able to generate such a debate.  In Grenada, the Fourth Estate continues to exhibit too limited an awareness, too divisive a mindset, too much, shortsightedness, at times an unhealthy intoxication with power and frequently what I will term a kind of adolescent irresponsibility, that cloud their perceptions about something as vital as education.

Universal secondary education in Grenada would require a serious regime of remedial education in key areas such as mathematics and reading, for which a cadre of specially trained teachers is a must, especially in a situation in which we will be having many semi-retarded children entering our secondary schools.

It would require a radical change in how our secondary schools are organised, involving a certain measure of diversification. It would require the reintroduction of the old fashioned methods of character training in our primary schools.

It would require a return to teaching Literature in our secondary schools as an important means of shaping character, and this would demand that Literature be compulsory up to the fifth form level.

It would require a heightened awareness of parents of what their children do in schools, and the link between what happens in homes and educational achievement.

Instead of contemplating this, we seem to be rushing to introduce universal secondary education in Grenada with what CXC Registrar, Dr. Didacus Jules, has referred to as “a one size fit all” secondary school system.

Dr Jules, quite rightly perceives that the introduction of Universal secondary education should be done in an educational system that provides multiple pathways to success, catering for a more variegated input into our secondary schools.

Some years ago, Barbados was judged second in the world for its delivery of Primary Education, Luxembourg in Europe was proclaimed to be first.

Nobody in Grenada should be left ignorant of the fact that we urgently need an education system in which 100% of our teachers are trained, if we are to improve educational and national achievements.

One of the first West Indians to understand this in the 1930s was Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad, who many people believe has Grenadian roots.

Dr Selwyn Ryan has recently made the observation that Dr. Williams was the greatest Trinidadian of the twentieth century.  The Barbadians, it appears, over the years, have taken a leaf out of Dr Williams’ book.

Not only must we seek to have all our teachers trained, but we need to ensure that our education system is supportive of our agricultural industry, such that we can successfully diversify it, and increase agricultural production tenfold.

Devonson LaMoth

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