There is much talk about the ways that we need to change our educational system in Barbados and few examples of the possibilities. This week I want to take you on a journey through the learning support class of the Ursuline Convent to highlight two developments which I think are positive markers of how we need to move forward in our educational model.
At the top of a rickety staircase in the tranquil surrounds of the Ursuline Convent, one door down from the art room, you will find Mrs Brenella Caines- Hall and her charges in the learning support class. Well, to be more precise, perhaps the best way to find them is after school on an appointed study hall day because during regular school hours, this dynamic class could be doing some of everything, anywhere and are certainly not twiddling their thumbs waiting for guests to pass through.
Let us start with a clear and necessary differentiation. The H Class at the Ursuline Convent is not a remedial class; it is a learning support class. There are some children in the class who do lessons which continue to remediate their deficits but this is not the purpose of the H class. I can immediately see your raised eyebrows. The question is what is the difference between a learning support and remedial class? Our school system does not recognize the vast difference between the two.
Remedial learning is a type of learning support in which the focus is on filling in gaps in the knowledge of a student. Usually, remediation is pressed into use when a child is functioning at least two years below chronological peers. Basically, the major remedy is that the regular syllabus is halted and the child focusses on gaps in reading, basic arithmetic and English skills because these skills are the ones seen as fundamental to all other academic success. The faster the gaps are closed, the faster the child can return to the regular syllabus successfully.
For students who for various reasons will never be able to follow the identical syllabus as their peers, remediation may be continued while a technical syllabus added as another alternative to a strictly academic focus. However, there are some children who after remediation or during remediation can return to academic classrooms and excel.
Here is where a class such as the H class at the Ursuline Convent comes in. The learning support class focuses mainly on task management and co-ordination as one of the major skills for academic success. Children with various learning difficulties such as dyslexia may need lifelong mechanisms of support to be successful in learning environments. Even if a technical syllabus is utilized, the child may still need coordination and management skills to meet deadlines and break large tasks into manageable ones.
Mrs Hall is one of the few special needs educators on the island that I know recognizes the differences between remedial teaching and learning support. She is transforming the lives of girls passing through the H class. For the last few years, Mrs Hall has been entering the $20 dollar challenge with her class. The $20 Challenge was conceptualized by the Barbados Entrepreneurship Foundation (BEF) to encourage Barbadian school children to see owning their businesses as a viable career option.
The Challenge encourages children to start a business using either a single proprietorship or a group initiative. The BEF sponsors a $20 loan for the sole proprietor or $20 for each shareholder in a group initiative. The students are taught about business planning, marketing and other skills which they need to make their businesses successful.
This year, the girls in Mrs Hall’s class have surpassed expectations with their offering for the $20 Challenge in my view. They have created a business called Phoenix Creations which focuses on making novelty items from 100% recycled material. The girls are making household décor using papier mache and weaving techniques. They are also making lunch bags, shopping bags and pencil cases out of repurposed plastic bags.
The product from plastic bag particularly caught my eye because the girls have solved a national problem which caused much ado in their classroom under the watchful eye of their teacher. We know that even with the introduction of the plastic bag levy, there will still be a need for plastic bags at some level in our country. The girls have now devised a way to repurpose those bags so that as much of what we need to use do not end up in the landfill.
The girls are all across Barbados marketing their products and manning displays of their work. In this exercise, they are overcoming the issues of self-confidence which being differently brilliant can cause. They are learning life skills, they are learning that they have a set of skills worth offer too. The pictures here were of the girls in Queen’s Park last Friday at the Future Centre Trust Fair.
Here is where we need to take education in Barbados!