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Editor’s note:This article was published in the Editorial section of the Chronicle Newspaper on July 31st, 2009.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and other proponents of the controversial Universal Secondary Education (USE) system continue to use deceptive rhetoric to sell the ailing project as a success and refuse to face the fact that it is not working and needs to be fixed or abandoned.

In an interview broadcast during the inaugural international cricket match at the Windsor Park Stadium, PM Skerrit spoke of his expertise and experience as an educator as well as his training in psychology. As the interview unfolded, he mentioned USE as one of his pet projects but maybe his thoughts were more focused on psychology than education at the time.

Indeed, there seems to be perverse psychology at play behind the response of the USE’s advocates to mounting skepticism about the project. It is manifested in a three-pronged approach consisting of rehashing the good intentions of USE, glossing over its failures and implying that critics callously want to keep down “poor people’s children” who fail primary school.

It is a cunning play to stir up people’s raw emotions and hope this clouds their better judgment. But in the long term, it will not work. Those who feel it know it. Teachers, parents and students who are feeling the crushing effects of USE’s flaws cannot help acquiring the distressing knowledge that the system is crumbling around their ears.

No one questions the good intentions of the USE but critics question its effectiveness and practicality. No one expects a complex system like USE to work flawlessly from the inception but no one expects it to be retained if glaring fatal flaws make it unusable and damaging. Furthermore, no one wants to deny any child a secondary education. However, those who fail primary school cannot be dumped ‘en masse’ on secondary schools without dire consequences.

The issues with USE are quite straightforward. Hundreds of students are being admitted to secondary schools. Many are not literate and cannot absorb a normal secondary education. Teachers are being forced to juggle the special needs of such children with the needs of those children who are capable of handling secondary school work. This puts enormous pressure on secondary schools’ physical and human resources and parents, teachers and students are all short changed by the system.

Some advocates of USE point to its success in other countries without regard for the peculiarities of its nature and implementation in Dominica. In nations where USE is working, the learning curve for children who are being brought up to speed is not as long and as steep as it is here. The stark reality is that the gap in knowledge between those who are ready for secondary education and those who are not is monumental, not marginal, requiring massive remedial work that is simply too taxing for teachers and students.

The bottom line is: a school is not a secondary school because a sign on the door says so; it is a secondary school because secondary education is being taught and learnt there. If the students in a school are not being taught at secondary level, it cannot be a secondary school. No legitimate university accepts those who fail secondary school and no legitimate secondary school should accept those who fail primary school.

Dumping children who fail primary school into secondary schools and then teaching them primary school work while pretending they are getting a secondary education is tantamount to creating a “fool’s paradise.”
Give those who fail primary school every opportunity to get further education, but don’t call it a secondary education under USE when it is not.

Have your say.

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Editor’s note: This article was written by Edward Lawrence and published in the Nov 28th,2008 issue of the Chronicle Newspaper.

The disposition to provide the atmosphere conducive to the overall development of students must supersede every other inclination, particularly those which may not be of direct benefit to our school-aged children.

This ought to be tied to the belief that students are to be the focus of attention for teachers and school administrators. It would be logical therefore, to ensure that students receive the requisite support and encouragement at all times.

Those of us who are familiar with the literature on student achievement will conclude with much proof and unwavering certainty that in order that no child be left behind there must be a comprehensive support system. Furthermore, the central tenets of this philosophy includes, among other things, the mandate to accord the highest priority to quality instruction and an unparalleled teacher empowerment programme. In addition, management and governance practices based on calculated and continuously robust assessment are profoundly important for accountability and sustained improvement.

Effectiveness in the classroom should not only be measured by the yard¬stick of overall academic performance in internal and external examinations. This is by no means an attempt to trivialise the proficiency of students and the pedagogic prowess of our teachers. However, we must be keen to recognise beneficial changes in attitudes in our students, particularly those who, in our estimation, were headed for the academic abyss or those who constituted an ever-present security threat to the stability of the school.

Those who might have appeared to have slipped through the cracks or were destined to meet this fate in the absence of remediation, but were successful in beating the odds, are to be complemented and their teachers should receive the necessary accolades. Further, we must, of necessity, pause to direct kudos to some of our students who, by no stretch of the imagination, could be described as “academics” but made steady progress throughout the term. To some of these students, a step, however minuscule represents quite an achievement.

One of the greatest challenges for every generation of educators is the selection of information and processes that are of most worth to our students. Not only this but these activities most have the potential to capture students’ interest.This does not necessarily mean that these interests ought to be considered extraneous to the teachers’ plans, nor students’ determination to learn. What is of critical importance is the teacher’s ability to use students interests in the furtherance of their goals.

Whatever adds meaning¬fully to the child’s under¬standing, his aptitude for growth and development, his comfort, his ability, his sense of freedom to explore can be said to be true education. Hence, those who wish to add value to the raw talents of students and their discernible inclination to achieve must be prepared to create the atmosphere within which these can take place. The classroom is ideal for engineering students’ growth and facilitating students’ achievement.

As the outcry against the teacher-dominated class¬rooms approximates deafening proportions, practitioners will be mandated, as a matter of pedagogic principle, to respond favourably and allow students the requisite latitude to take responsibility for their own learning.

It is inevitable that under these circumstances the child’s self-esteem will increase. As such, much greater emphasis ought to be placed on appropriate teaching strategies. Further, classroom setup must change and certainly, space should not be a constraint. Abstract ideas and concepts that are far removed from the child’s experiences and encounters make learning difficult.

Without doubt, a positive learning environment includes high expectations for student participation and learning as well as student behaviour, encouraging meaningful learning and working relationships. Of course, this demands a much greater capital investment and unprecedented motivation on the part of teachers. This latter requirement is a surmount¬able challenge which can be overcome if the collective political will given free play in the process.

It is apparent that society places greater responsibilities on the school. Pastoral care is rapidly becoming an area of major concern. Moreover, the school seems to be competing for the attention of students. Against this background, the school has to offer a product and advertise a culture of independence within which students can be masters of their destiny.

There is no better way to do this than to first offer a varied curriculum and to engender a paradigm shift in educational technology utilised by teachers. In the end we must be consumed by the maxim that learning is best achieved by doing.

For one thing, the school cannot do these alone. Certainly, schools must be ever prepared to form strong alliances with the community, exchanging resources and feeding on each other, of course, in a symbiotic relationship.

Schools can be regarded as a source, an indomitable pillar of discipline, morality and steadfastness. Children can take what they need and want to carry on the business of their own education with the help of the teachers, who, it must be said, are indispensable.

Schools are indeed places where ideological conflict is being waged on a daily basis. Teachers and parents must act as mediators, not necessarily imposing their will on students but presenting viable alternatives and assisting them to make wise choices.

Unless we have faith in the eagerness and ability to grow and learn, we cannot help and can only harm his education.We must admit that the apparent increase in the school’s functions must occasion a corresponding increase in the necessary resources. Where this is not the case the burden will undoubtedly become heavier, augmenting the level of frustration of staff and students alike.

The urge to allow students to be responsible for their own learning can only deepen if our teachers understand that students are naturally curious. This can be further encouraged if motivation is an integral part of lessons.

Our conviction must be centred around the positive results that can be obtained when there is greater capital expenditure in the area of education. Certainly our teachers must be encouraged to sharpen their skills at every available opportunity. As often as possible, they must be assisted in the areas of classroom management and exposed to the strategies to deal with students with special needs. In the absence of these, we will lose a significant part of the nerve centre of the teaching profession and will be burdened by our incessant attempts to retain students, who, for all intents and purposes, have dropped out of school despite the fact that they sit in our classrooms on a daily basis.

It is imperative that the school be viewed as an integral component of out society. A natural consequence of this ideological paradigm is the active participation of community groups and organizations in the development and sustenance of our schools as institutions charged with the awesome responsibility of fashioning and equipping students with the expertise for national development.

Now, more than ever,our schools must position themselves to reap greater benefits from the private sector and other community groups, all in an effort to create an environment that is more conducive to student learning. The success of our students in various fields of endeavour will inevitably benefit the wider society.

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