It is no secret that there are several concerns which I have about the educational system in Barbados. These concerns were some of the reasons I was completely exasperated after spending eight years in the government teaching service.
At that time, my own children were still young and I had less of an idea about some of the frustrations parents could be experiencing. Now that I have four children at four different schools with varying needs and abilities, I am at a complete loss as to what type of child our educational system aims to cater to.
The system is so rigid that it does not consider the needs and abilities of so called ‘high flying children’. If the said ‘high flyer’ plays a sport or does another activity simultaneously with academics, there is no incentive and very little support for the child. Sixth forms are springing up all across the island but I am unclear as to the overarching plan for them.
The two colonial ‘top’ grammar schools still only accept students with grade ones for their 6th forms and so because they start with the best students as they do at the first form level, obviously they take the lion’s share of national scholarships. The requirements for national scholarships themselves have not changed. There is still no scholarship to encourage entrepreneurship, sporting or art excellence. As much as we talk, the enshrinement of academic prowess as the only ability worth reward is still firmly with us.
If the child is not a so called high flyer and needs facilitation, there is a total dearth of measures for the child to become a success. In fact, most parents with a special child in Barbados are penalized several times over as they try to address their child’s needs. There is no use of Individual Education Planning (IEP), although it exists in theory.
Many parents of children with dyslexia and other learning deficit diagnoses know the same thing I know. These children are barely catered to in the system and many parents are forced to expend resources to send their wards to private school to have their needs met. For the parent of a child with special needs, the decision to send a child to private school is not a choice. We are forced to do it because our children will languish otherwise.
Paying school fees in the current economic climate is, needless to say, not easy. I found out recently too that my plot will be thickening. The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is thankfully slightly more progressive than the Ministry of Education. Students who have a diagnosis requiring special facilitation can benefit from a range of options including readers or extra time.
These facilities are only however put in place upon receipt of an educational psychologist’s report no older than six months in relation to the time of the examination. The report can cost anywhere up to $1,500 to be done. A diagnosis given by the Caribbean Dyslexia Centre is not recognized unless it comes from a registered psychologist.
Please permit me two frank paragraphs to explain to you the educational system that we are so proud of in Barbados. My dumpling has never gotten more than 30% on a test in the primary school system when my dumpling had to read and do the test under the same conditions and time as the rest of the class. My dumpling has come last or second to last in class every straight year between class one and class four. My dumpling has performed below par on every criterion reference test my dumpling has ever done. The criterion reference test is supposed to identify those areas of weakness in the child for the purpose of reinforcing gaps.
With a record like that in primary school, with a diagnosis from the Caribbean Dyslexia Centre and enrollment in a learning support class, none of this has triggered a Ministry of Education response that will scaffold us, the trying parents, with a means to unlock facilitation for my dumpling at CXC level. This is the state of affairs in Barbados in the twilight day of the year 2017.
What happens to the children of parents who simply do not have resources to deal with their special children? What happens when parents do not even recognize their children’s needs because they themselves struggle? Why am I as a parent expected to pay the same amount of tax without even the chance of an exemption and school fees as well? Where will the educational psychologist’s pay come from? The rock is dry!
This is a scandalous state of affairs and it is why a significant number of our prison population is at least functionally illiterate. Indeed, it is the frustration of not being addressed in school which leads some of them to lives of crime in the first place. But we are happy with our educational system and we refuse to innovate in the sector to address the gaps.
We prefer instead to keep writing off children who can excel with the right type of teaching and intervention. The said dumpling is now a straight 70/80s student with facilitation. We prefer to have circular and incoherent discussions about the attraction of guns and gang life to our young men. All this is easier than digging in and hiring a reasonable amount of educational psychologists at the Ministry of Education.
It is easier than seeking to make some kind of standing order between the Ministry of Education and CXC which can address students with a proven record of problematic performance at the time of examination. Not recognizing that our educational system is the biggest under-producing sector in Barbados is easier than providing parents with incentives to care about their children and to press on with their quest to meet their children’s needs.
Year after year we move forward with systems which cannot take us to the stability and economic viability that we seek as a nation. We have allowed political allegiance, the desire for personal aggrandizement and sheer laziness to hinder needed reform. I just do not know why we like it so but I know that once we like it so, it will never change. The educational system in Barbados is not catering for the children of Barbados; it is catering to our colonially derived inferiority complex which triggers in us the need preserve old and outdated modes of almost everything.