It’s that time of year again that newsroom practitioners in Barbados hardly welcome with open arms — primary school graduation time.
It’s not that journalists have anything against those cute little boys and girls in their gowns, sashes and mortar boards, the distribution of trophies and cups and the fancy speeches, after all, journalists were once children too.
But it can be a taxing time in newsrooms when some days resources have to be deployed to cover as many as a dozen ceremonies. By the time it’s all done close to 100 would have been held and reporters can find themselves on the road all day long moving from hall to hall.
Taxing, or not, however, we do it. It’s the children and their teachers’ time to shine and we would be less than kind if we did not give them every opportunity to do just that.
But when all the brand name guest speakers have returned to the regular chores and the principals have all closed their annual reports, and the children have gone off to enjoy the summer and prepare for a new life at secondary school, what are the concerns that should occupy the rest of the country arising out of the rotation of platitudes?
While the focus at this time of the year is largely on who has made it to the top schools, hardly do we pause to cast an eye of reflection on the environment from which they are moving — and perhaps more importantly, the environment into which another 4,000 odd students will move as they prepare for their moment of anxiety and excitement in another year.
For sure our primary schools are as different as an elephant and a mouse. We have everything from small rural schools with rolls that are just beyond 100 students to much larger urban institutions with as many as 800 students.
We have principals who, from all reports, understand and appreciate the value of effective human resource management and others, as can be found in any society, who believe they are the fount of all wisdom and knowledge and the opinions of no one else matters.
We have schools in some districts where residents regard the institution and all those who attend as an integral part of the community, to be protected with all the vigour one can muster, while there are others where the administrators daily face the horrors of a community that is anything but community.
These and many more factors serve to separate our primary schools — and the results show.
What we believe that Barbadians generally, as stakeholders, ought to have from our education authorities is a comprehensive, scientific breakdown on the performance of all our primary schools, in a fashion that would allow for comparison. And we do not suggest comparisons for the sake of vain rivalry or chest-thumping, but as an objective tool for ensuring that institutions which don’t perform at the required level are given the attention they need.
We don’t believe the annual reports read at graduations by principals come close to satisfying this requirement.
After all, schools are not about the principals or teachers, but the education — and the development of the full potential — of our youngest citizens. When we hear that school “A” has a top-class reputation, it should not be because it often gets one or two students into the top ten in the Common Entrance. We ought to know what happened with the other 100 who sat the exam.
At the same time, however, we don’t want to give the impression that we hold to the view, like so many other Barbadians, that the only purpose of primary school education is to prepare our children for the Common Entrance. We believe that the objective assessment of any school should involve the tracking of student performances from year group to year group.
To allow anything else, in our view, would be to neglect the opportunities to correct learning — and teaching — challenges at an early enough stage to make a difference ahead of the exam. When students score zero, or 10, or 20, or 30 after four years of dedicated schooling, unless the results are a direct anomaly from the routine, red flags should be raised.
In fact, we suggest red flags should be raised long before the exam when such results are the norm. Then there is the matter of what happens to these students post primary school, but that will be the subject of another Editorial.