Many things related to education occupied my attention this week. On Monday, both the Convent group of schools and The St Michael School celebrated their 125th anniversaries. For the first time in their celebrations, the Convent was presented colours (The National Flag of Barbados and the School Flag were installed in a ceremony).
A piece of history was also created because it was the first time that a Star 2 ranked cadet anchored a colours ceremony and further, it was the first time that that junior ranked cadet was female. That cadet, Layne O., happens to be my daughter. Not only did she anchor the presentation of colours but the 14-year-old went into the sitting of her first CXC examination.
I think that it is significant that she lived out these life experiences on the eve of the sitting of the Common Entrance Examination for 2019. When she sat her own examination three years ago, she scored in the 20s in Mathematics and the 30s in English and did not even receive a placement at a secondary school.
I tell her story all the time; I hope it is one of courage and inspiration for parents whose children are not meeting the very archaic and rigid developmental tasks we currently set. My daughter was diagnosed as being on the dyslexic spectrum since she was at an age that she could be tested. She struggled severely in the few months that we were trying to figure out what was going on with her.
One teacher even told her that her mother was bright and so were her brothers, so she had no idea what could possibly be wrong with her. That comment infuriated me to the point where I sat down and developed an Educational Plan specifically for my daughter. I decided to leave her in the public education system for the primary leg because at age ten she was still only an emerging reader.
I knew that unless she could cover the rudiments of reading and basic reasoning, no amount of any other type of education would be sensible. So I moved her from the primary school she was at, which was heavily academically skewed and put her into a school which focused more on holistic development. We try to say that all the schools in Barbados are equal. They are not, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. As we unravel the mess that is our educational system I think it is one of the worthwhile pillars to build on.
School, during the day for my daughter, became an opportunity to rebuild her confidence. As I mentioned, she was badly bruised from her experience of teachers and comments at her previous school. The aim of her education during the day was to figure out exactly what bits could be reinforced in big group sessions and to continue her in the structure of school. I abandoned the grades, the tests and those activities.
I ensured that I got her assessment done, and I spoke to every teacher individually so that they understood that my daughter was as bright as ever, just adjusting to the way in which she needed to learn. She got private lessons in reading and reasoning. The only reason that she sat the Common Entrance was because she wanted to. She wanted the experience and memory of going with her friends to do the examination.
I had already booked her place with the Ursuline Convent about two years prior. The Convent is the only school on the island with an integrative learning support programme. Many other schools carry remedial programmes or special needs structured interventions and because I knew my daughter valued integration with her peer group, I knew both of those options were wrong for her. The Convent works for her, in part, because it is not a school for special needs education or even one that treats special children in handicapped terms.
The Convent has not failed me. Their learning support teacher is easily one of the best in the English speaking Caribbean and she has a class of generally well-adjusted and keen girls who are getting on with life. Nobody is reinforcing to them what they cannot do. Everybody is busy finding ways to make them better at what they can do.
Let us also not pretend that the school environment does not count. It does. My daughter got into a scuffle or two at the end of her primary school years. Hormones were about, frustration was there and primal energies rose. There were willing audiences and other participants. There is less opportunity for that kind of behaviour in the ethos of the Convent schools.
Where the behaviour bubbles over, school administration and parents work together to ensure that the child is scaffolded until better can be done. There is no sweeping anything under the carpet and there is no option for parents not to go when called. Had my daughter gone to a different type of school environment, one more volatile and charged, I have no doubt that I would be dealing with additional behavioural problems today.
She can “ish” and “boom flick” as good as, and perhaps better, than any girl her age. She just dares not do it at the Convent because her parameters are clearly defined, both by school and home. There are a few solid models of educational excellence on this island and I think that the learning support system of the Convent is a model worth researching, documenting and replicating as a part of the national solution to educating children with different needs.
I know that every parent is not blessed with an extra dollar to put toward a private educational experience. That should not be a punishment to children who have needs to be met. I think we know by now that we can invest money in education to create a better system or we will have to build more prisons and redouble police numbers. The money has to be spent. It really is up to us where we deem it is better spent.
Proud is a joke! I have not given up on my child and never will I ever. I urge parents, whatever the outcome if your blossom sat the dreaded Common Entrance, be there for your child, accept them in their beauty and challenges and be their biggest advocate forever. Do not leave the educational decisions about your child to the Ministry of Education – parent YOUR child.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: email@example.com)