Jul 02, 2008 Editorial Comments Off on Rite of passage
We congratulate the 17,630 children who received the results of their sixth grade assessment tests yesterday; every one of them.
There is no question that the ones who placed in the top ten, or the top hundred, or the top one percent, also deserve special mention, since by the criteria we have chosen, they have demonstrated that they are ‘tops”. But there are some niggling questions that were raised in our Sunday editorial, on which we wish to expand now that the euphoria or despair may be subsiding in homes across the country.
Firstly, the Ministry of Education and the Government of Guyana must begin to deliver more on theirs stated policies in the area of education reform.
Accepting that abilities or aptitudes would be randomly distributed in our population, the fact that 74 of the top 181 performers came out of primary schools from Georgetown suggests that, even at that level, the facilities there are not really superior to other areas – especially in the number of trained teachers per school.
One of the rationales offered for tinkering with the system was that it was too “elitist”— driven by a focus on which students would gain entry to the “elite” schools of Georgetown. Steps, we were promised, would be taken to boost the delivered educational services to secondary schools in the rest of the country – especially in the rural communities.
We do now see much evidence of this upgrading in addition to the improvements in the physical infrastructure.
The unfortunate result of the announced results every year is that at least the “lowest” five thousand or so will be stigmatised for the remainder of their lives in the educational system, as not having what it takes to be “successful”.
And this is not an inconsiderable burden for a young person of twelve to overcome. All studies demonstrate that children respond to expectations, and the expectations, very frankly, for the bottom 5,000 are not high – even from their parents or the teachers of those schools.
Recently, we learnt that the infamous “Skinny” was one of those from the lowest 5,000 who was directed to a “community high school,” from which he dropped out and gravitated into a life of crime.
While there are obviously other factors operating, the school environment is our best opportunity for shaping our youths.
In the words of one famous graduate of our elite schools, a Guyana Scholar even, the old system was designed to produce “thoroughbreds”. And produce them we did. But, he pointed out, in his travels across the world, he saw the extraordinary solid achievement that those who were not in the top tier made in so many diverse fields.
And this is the point we wish to emphasise: at each level of our effort to educate our children, we cannot afford to discard any. Who knows what they can produce?
The educational system, by its design, must not lead to a feeling of inadequacy in so many. While we need the “thoroughbreds,” we also need the plough horses. And if the truth be told, we probably need more plough horses than thoroughbreds at this stage of our development.
At this juncture, we are neither fish nor fowl, because even the elite schools are suffering from a severe shortage of teachers in key subjects. Can one imagine what the future of a country is when the students of its most elite high school cannot take Physics at the Advanced Level?
And if these schools are suffering, imagine what the situation in the schools outside of Georgetown is.
A truism of the sociology of developing societies is that frustration does not build up to bursting point when all development indices are pointing downwards: it does so when they begin to climb upwards. There is the danger of shattering rising expectations.
This Government has promised much in its focus on “education,” and it must work harder to ensure that, in the expectations it has engendered, the delivery system for that education does not sabotage the promise of “betterment”.
The 17,000 that are going on to high school (and they have to do so because we have passed laws that forbid them to work as apprentices etc) should all be given the opportunity to fulfil their dreams. Let no child be left behind.
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