Dear Pupil #3379,
No, you were not among the handful of pupils who were the toast of a nation’s media, including this outlet, for perfect and near-perfect performance in the Common Entrance examination.
Your name may not yet be featured in the pages of this newspaper. But do not doubt you are a hero or heroine to parents, guardians, grandparents, godparents and family friends.
And that is more than enough. For you have striven against a system designed to glorify the elite and pit future citizens against each other in a winner-take-all, taxpayer-funded, white-knuckle ride to adult citizenship.
You are about to enter a secondary school for a place paid for in large measure by the blood, sweat and tears of your family and your ancestors who believed that education should be a right, not a privilege. Value it.
You will no doubt be happy to walk away from a lessons racket organised by some teachers who made maximum effort only when paid extra on the side. But you know those who genuinely cared with extra help, after hours and outside the classroom. Thank them sincerely and do not forget them. Ever.
There is something you must learn as you enter First Form that few if anyone in your primary school will have prepared you for – what it takes to be a man or woman in 21st Century Barbados.
You are being prepared for a job that you yourself may have to invent for no one has yet thought of it.
Many of the benefits for which your forebears have laboured and still strive, through something known as taxes. will be mocked as entitlements. The choice will be yours when you become of voting age to ensure that the ladder put up for you will not be kicked down for others.
You will have to learn more about the things that your teachers may not have wished to talk about – things like income inequality, elitism, prejudice, and cynicism. You must guard against the insidious creep of values for which this modern nation was not constructed.
But we digress.
No doubt you must be wondering why 11 people out of 3,379, not a few of whom have had the benefit of small classes, low teacher-student ratios, paid tuition and abundant resources their parents can afford, are now the beneficiaries of the spotlight.
You will be told that the private schools from which so many of them have sprung must be superior to your own taxpayer-funded, public school.
Do not be fooled by this. Eight of the dozen high-flying, perfect score mathematicians in the exam attended a public school where dedicated teachers still strive amid low pay, high workloads and parlous amenities. Thank them.
You know – even if our leaders do not – that the vast numbers of students who will rub shoulders with you at our nation’s high schools did their work, checked back, and are proud of their efforts whether this newspaper recognises those efforts or not.
Do not despair that there will be no shouting from the rooftops of the lad who turned a D into a B, or a lass’s persistent failure into respectable success.
But no one has yet told you that the ultimate test – the great examinations of all – will come not from the choice of school tie or tunic but in the first paper set by a university, community college, technical school, or first employer – and the test is the same for all.
Here, the examiner cares neither a jot or tittle for a parent’s wealth, connections or ability to game the system and place you in the school of their choice.
For whether you will graduate from Frederick Smith or Queen’s College or Darryl Jordan or Combermere or Lester Vaughan, the test of life will be the same. and many high-flyers may be found wanting.
But you, dear student, who has struggled mightily and valiantly against being taught to tests, against those who disregarded or misunderstood your innate desire to learn and style of learning, will be rewarded. You will have won the battle against the Victorian-era, hide-bound traditions of elitism, exceptionalism, and homework.
And while you will yet encounter many vestiges of a weak and archaic education system in high school, you must nevertheless strive for that one quality which no school can bestow – the desire to learn all your livelong days.
Seek and find knowledge. Do not yield to ignorance, well-worn platitudes and tired clichés. Put fact before fancy, principle before personality, ideas ahead of individuals.
We trust, too, that someone somewhere will add to your knowledge of how you are governed. For like mediaeval monks, there are those who will seek not to spread this knowledge for fear that the truly well-informed citizen will demand to be governed better and more wisely than ever before.
You will be introduced to tribal politics where partisans don colours like football teams, devoted only to their self-perpetuation. Fight against the system of spoils many seek to keep alive.
Forge a nation where all are treated equally under the law, where we are bound by rules and laws and not by men or women, where your talents are given full flight by willing ears, ready hands and steady minds.
Build, young pupil, a nation where merit, not might nor wealth nor circumstance of birth, will seize the day.
Do not entirely forget all you were taught in primary school. We do not mean the multiple-choice answers and the ready essay phrases – dump those.
Live by the Golden Rule. Love the truth. Question power. Be honest, fearless and just; but respect, understand, care, love.
If you do these things, you will have left, for all time and all who shall live after you, a better nation and world than the one we have entrusted to your care.
We apologise most humbly for the less than pristine state of your inheritance. It has been worn down by environmental degradation, inept leadership, weak governance and not a little greed.
Sadly, some of your compatriots may not live to see the full flower of the potential, for they may be cut down by bullets, which some unscrupulous guardians let pass and which we are now powerless to stop.
We are sorry for our sins of commission and omission and hope that you may make a better fist of it than we have.
But know that this tiny island nation was built by nothing but blood, tears, toil and sweat to be mightier than its size, with vistas greater than many mortal eyes can yet see, its destiny to be determined not by fate or fortune but by your enterprise and excellence in whatever you do.
Remember the words of the Pledge of Allegiance – by your living do credit to your nation wherever you go. Live by the simple, honest creeds of your Creator, whoever you perceive him or her. Honour your mother. Honour your father. Honour thyself.
And above all things be true to yourself; that way you cannot be false to anyone.
Now savour the fruits of your labours. Play your heart out this vacation period but safely.
For come September, you enter a portal to manhood and womanhood.
For you, dear Pupil 3379, the real journey is only just beginning.
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