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by John Goddard
As I come to the final part of my three-part article on education reform, I want to recommend that the primary school curriculum should include English, Mathematics, Science, Digital Literacy, Social Studies, Oral Spanish, Values Education, Health and Family Life Education, Drama, Art, Dance, Music, and, of course, compulsory Physical Education.
There is an urgent need for an oral communication programme in primary and secondary schools. The necessity becomes patently obvious when we listen to sportspersons being questioned by journalists on radio and television.
Responses often take the form of monosyllables and poor grammar when they try to render sentences. Some of the journalists themselves struggle to ask intelligible questions.
How is it that notwithstanding our boast of high literacy, Barbadians experience so much difficulty speaking in public? Oral language proficiency is important for self-confidence, the building of interpersonal relationships and effective interaction with the wider world.
Over 40 years ago, I designed an oral communication programme for secondary schools at a time when the Ministry of Education seemed interested. Unfortunately, up to now, no room has been found in the curriculum for this area of education.
At this point, let me renew my call for English and Mathematics to be taught by specialists. We must accept that not every teacher is competent to teach either of these subjects. With regard to Maths, if we are honest, we would admit that too many of our students have had to suffer through poor and uninspiring teaching. Results in Mathematics must improve if Barbados is to become a highly productive society.
Government has to invest more time and resources in the recruitment and training of Maths teachers.
Still on the subject of the curriculum, some years ago, a serious error was made in allowing students to drop Literature in secondary schools, thereby creating an artificial division between Language and Literature. Literature is about life and provides pupils with the opportunity to grapple with the complex issues that characterise the human condition. Our youngsters need to develop sympathy and empathy and learn to cope with life’s challenges which the creative imaginations of writers produce. In any case, literature is language in motion.
From primary schools, our children should be exposed to good literature.
Values education through exposure to the great world religions should also be part of the curriculum. The purpose of such a programme will not be to encourage students to join any religion. Rather, its intent is to encourage tolerance for all faiths and to arrest the spread of moral decay which threatens to derail everything we hold dear.
Primary schools must become places where students enjoy learning. Adequate recreation time must be provided and the Barbadian cultural habit of going to lessons de-emphasised. It should be the job of the teacher to teach their classes effectively so that the need for extra lessons is reduced. Too many of our children suffer burnout and are turned off from learning by the time they reach class four. Creative and interesting classes will contribute to student success and enjoyment. One may even find that boys become more excited about learning.
I am convinced that with a revised primary school programme, there will be far fewer students with poor literacy and numeracy skills, for it is my view that, unless they have brain damage, all children can learn and develop their full potential once they are well taught.
The removal of the 11+ should result in the need for fewer books of practice papers, with resultant financial savings for parents. I can’t help but recall that as an elementary school boy, I had only exercise books with the school and public library providing my reading material. And I was none the worse off.
While I am on the subject of primary education, let me suggest the revival of community schools where a school’s population comprises mainly children who live in the neighbourhoods of that school. The current practice of middleclass Barbadians from all over the island cherry-picking certain primary schools for their children and keeping out children who reside in the surrounding villages is wrong and must cease. What this has done is breed elitism in primary education and leave some schools, particularly in rural areas, to settle for those students whose parents cannot afford to send them elsewhere.
The absence of the 11-Plus exam should contribute to the discontinuation of this practice.
With respect to the structure of the Ministry of Education and schools, I think that the post of education officer should represent a promotion from that of principal. His/her role should be to facilitate the evaluation of schools and to ensure that ministry policy informs the work in schools. What they must not do, though. is to attempt to micromanage schools.
There should be deputy principals at primary schools and two deputies for secondary schools with specific responsibilities. In addition to academic and professional qualifications, all those aspiring to leadership should be trained in human resource management and industrial relations. Such training should help to reduce conflict between the school and the unions.
Our secondary schools need strong middle management.
Year heads and heads of department should be better remunerated and be required to teach no more than fifteen periods per week. The additional non-teaching periods would give them enough time to deal with problems in their year groups and subject areas.
There is a need for an adequate number of social workers and psychologists attached to schools to identify and treat social and behavioural problems which students present.
It goes without saying that Erdiston Teachers Training College should be in the vanguard of education transformation.
It must be an environment characterised by teacher creativity and innovation and should prioritise the turning out of graduates who are equipped and ready to cope with the changing demands of Barbadian classrooms.
Turning to other aspects of education, I am persuaded that we need a College of Agriculture which would provide more of our youth with the requisite skills to engage in farming and other aspects of the food industry. The college should have greenhouses, adequate land and necessary facilities for the cultivation of crops, animal husbandry and agro-processing.
Our need for food security should make such a project a priority.
It is time that our young people become creators instead of mere consumers of technology. Government should provide the infrastructure and resources for gifted young people to innovate and manufacture video games and other technological items. If we can capture even a small segment of the video games market, for example, this country could provide decent work for youth and save and earn millions of dollars in foreign exchange.
I am concerned about how this society deals with children who run afoul of the law and are sent to the Government Industrial Schools. At present, these schools fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs. I propose that these young offenders become the responsibility of the Ministry of Education which should provide them with the teaching and other resources available at regular schools. Wards of the Government Industrial Schools should exit better prepared to face the challenges of life.
If we want to maximise the talents of our young people, we have to reform the educational system in a meaningful way. Tinkering and half-baked measures will achieve nothing of significance. In this connection, I wish to suggest that the proposal outlined by the Chief Education Officer regarding the transfer of students in forms 1 and 2 at what the ministry proposes calling Senior Colleges of Excellence to Junior Colleges of Excellence is disruptive and unnecessary.
There is no need for the kind of two-tiered system for secondary schools as proposed by the Ministry of Education. Apart from converting Harrison College, Queen’s College and The Lodge School into sixth-form colleges, all other secondary schools should retain their names, and provide education for students from first to fifth form.
Let us get on with affordable transformation that is in the best interest of our children.
John Goddard is a retired educator.