Aunty Priya has done her hair and held her virtual consultations with teachers. The public expectation was that these consultations would have been a forerunner to the rolling out of a major revamp of the country’s educational policies; they were to be disappointed.
All that has happened in the one month, since Aunty Priya’s return to the Education Ministry have been announcements: schools will not be reopening and possibly not even in September and now that the Grades 2, 4 and 9 Assessments will not be taking place. Nothing substantive as yet…
The National Assessments, if the truth be told, were a complete waste of time. They lured students and parents into a false sense of security.
One day, I met this parent and she was bragging how her daughter got 95% in the Assessment. The mother proudly predicted that the girl was going to do well in the National Grade Six Assessment, the following year.
I met the mother one year after and asked her how the child did in the examinations. She said to me: “Dem rob she marks in the examination. She nah get a good school.”
It makes no sense having these Assessments if they do not lead to any targeted interventions. And often by the time these Assessments are completed, it is too late for interventions. At the root of the problem are a poor home environment and substandard teaching. But don’t tell the teachers that. They will hit the roof even though one in every five teachers should not be teaching in school because they are not properly trained or educated.
The home environment is also important. Children who come from homes in which parents are educated and who place emphasis on ensuring on their children’s education have been found to perform much better. The many mythical stories, about the poor person who studied with the use of lanterns and who excelled despite their impoverished state, are usually exceptions rather than the rule and are far and few.
Educational performance in the country’s schools reveal class-biases. Income is directly correlated to performance. In other words, the richer your parents are, the better are your chances of doing well. If you are low-income, the chances of you doing well are remote.
Those entrusted with managing the educational sector ignore this reality. They refuse to concede that the country’s educational system is elitist. More than half of students fail the NGSA and the CXC examinations
The pandemic is going to exacerbate these biases. Poor people are going to be left behind. The Ministry of Education is clueless about what to do to ensure that students are taught from home. They are now inviting teachers to come forward to conduct online and mass media classes. But the majority of teachers are familiar with this form of delivery.
Poor children in interior locations do not have access to the Learning Channel. And just how much can be done through the Learning Channel? And those poor students who do not have television, laptop or tablet will be disadvantaged.
Education is going to be different after the pandemic subsides. Homeschooling will become part of the new normal in other parts of the world. During the pandemic parents have been working with their children at home.
Even before the pandemic, there were calls for the Ministry of Education to permit homeschooling. But this appeal fell on deaf ears.
One parent whose child won a place at one of the top secondary schools refused to send her child there because she was concerned about bullying in the public school system. The parent opted for a religious school because she felt that school would have had greater discipline.
Other parents are not enamoured by the standards of the public school and some are not also by private schools. They support homeschooling. This is not however a poor man’s solution but it can help reduce class sizes in the public school systems and eventually the number of schools which have to be built and maintained.
Homeschooling is elitist. But so too is the present education system. Homeschooling will not change that fact. Solutions have to be found to teach children from home both during and after the pandemic because some parents have already made up their minds and until a vaccine is found their child is not going back to school. And who will give them wrong.
Homeschooling has produced results. Among the list of famous persons who were homeschooled were Thomas Edison who improved the light bulb; US President, Theodore Roosevelt; investor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell; and US Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’ Conner.
It is in the public interest that children should attend school. But parents, who can afford it and who have the knowledge or the means should equally be allowed to homeschool their children. Those supporting homeschooling are of the view that their children would learn faster and better. The cost of hiring tutors – where parents cannot undertake the tutoring – can be offset by reduced transportation costs and having to provide lunch money, uniforms and the numerous other expenses associated with sending a child to school.
It is one thing to deny a child the right to an education. It is another thing to deny a parent the right to determine the sort of education his or her child should enjoy.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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