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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.

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