This year will be as others have been. Sometime in June, the media will appear to take photos of ecstatic children and overjoyed parents whose Common Entrance results gave their wards the privilege of attending the school of their choice.
There will also be those who did not make it to the institution they preferred, but will be encouraged to “work hard” and “try their best” at their new school, because ultimately, “it does not matter where you go, but how you apply yourself”. An overabundance of congratulations and Facebook posts will go from person to person, and then the long summer will begin.
I have now discovered that there is yet another side to this story. There are no cameras here; there are matter-of-fact decisions. There will be no special congratulations here; there is merely relief that the child was allocated to a “free” secondary school. There is the hope that although the child may have scored less than 20 per cent in the exam, the system will somehow correct itself. There is the belief that because our education is “free”, and gives everyone a fair chance, surely what could not be accomplished in the child’s formative years at a primary school, will be successfully attempted in a secondary school.
However, after six years of being at the bottom of the class, I suspect that that their esteem may have taken a hit or two. I must confess, when my son did the “Eleven plus”, I was totally oblivious to this dichotomy taking place. I suspect many parents may well be in that same position. Most of us know that there are children who technically fail the Common Entrance Exam but are nonetheless allocated to a secondary school.
What we focus little on is that there are some children who will score less than 20 or even ten per cent on an exam paper and are allocated to a secondary school. While some of us are weighing between which older secondary school we prefer, there are others who would like their child simply to have a chance at an education – an education that we have promised them; an education to which our tax-payers’ dollars are applied. Indeed, the education that we all buy uniforms and text books for.
The purpose of anything is ultimately to meet a need. This is either a need of individuals or a population. If our educational system will this year fail 1,000-odd children again, we must assess its purpose. The system we have must not work only in favour of a few. We sought to abolish that system years ago.
That system that allowed access to a secondary education based on the amount of melanin in one’s skin, one’s socio-economic background and subsequently by one’s ability to pass a test. We removed some of those barriers and opened the floodgate for many more children.
If there had been no policy change to the system at that time, I could not have attended a secondary school, or any of my siblings for that matter. However, there is a demographic we must now turn our hearts towards. A demographic of children who struggle to simply read; and reading is the foundation to learning all other subjects.
These children process information in ways different from the modes that we have made to be the standard, but they do not possess an inability to learn. I see children who are intelligent, gifted and put here for a purpose having their dreams snatched from them. I see a cycle of poverty and non-fulfilment of potential destined to repeat itself.
If you, as a parent in this position, do not have the financial means to pay for specialized tuition, then the system will undoubtedly fail you. These children should not have the stigmatization afforded them in some cases. Rather, they deserve to be empowered with the tools they need for learning and have equal opportunities to develop.
Of course, the reality is that there are seemingly capable, literate children who are not in this category, who are also forced into a system which does not facilitate their potential either. However, I want to focus on those who are desperately in need of tools and empowerment.
I do not make these comments to in anyway castigate the teachers who will receive a new batch of children with these needs this very year. They will now set about teaching the basics of reading and writing, with a hope that their students can exit the system being literate.
These teachers have a curriculum to teach; these teachers must prepare children for CXC’s just as their colleagues at the other schools do; these teachers are overworked and these schools do not have the resources needed to help these children the way they should. These classes are large and some of these children are by now very disruptive.
If we do not agitate for change, every year the story will remain the same. These children will not take their place in society as we would prefer. The successful performance as a nation on the world stage is determined by the development of all its people and not just a few.
So what is my motive for this article? I met a child. He is funny, intelligent, creative and has more energy than his mother would prefer. In other words, he is a typical eleven-year-old boy. He is also challenged with dyslexia. I assisted with a project this year that allowed me to see the mock test scripts of some students scheduled to do the Common Entrance Exam this year.
This was the first time that I realized it was possible for a child to score under 10 per cent. What was more shocking to me was the number of students who scored under 30. I had never seen this before. Some of these children did not complete their papers. They did what they could and left out the rest; namely the aspects of the paper that required more complex analyses.
The child I met, however, completed his paper – even the sections that were complex. He did not score in those sections – he received a zero percentage. I also met another student who apparently is also challenged with dyslexia. He wrote an excellent composition. He could not spell the words well or structure the sentences as he would prefer, but he creatively told his story.
He received a D for his composition. We do not give out A’s for effort. I am not a technocrat in the educational field; I am a parent. I do not have all the answers; I have concerns. I do not have statistical evidence; I have complaints of friends who are parents and teachers. I do not have the pen strokes necessary to change policy; I have tears, some prayers and a heart.
I do know it is time for a change, however. Let us make this year the last year. Let us change this story, and indeed let us change the course of our nation.