Thursday, April 18, 2024

GUEST COLUMN – The right choice


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Recently, while standing in the queue at a commercial bank, six of my compatriots from varying social backgrounds became involved in a discussion on education in Barbados.
The discussion was initiated by the choice of The St Michael School by this year’s 11-Plus student with the highest grade. 
It was felt that the student and her parents were smart in choosing the school that was best for them and not follow Bajan convention. The notion that students would generally perform better academically in some schools than others was unanimously rejected. Why then does our country persist in promoting this fallacy?
The discussion naturally progressed to the wasted resources involved in transporting students to schools outside of their communities.
And the obvious question was whatever happened to the concept of zoning? Students from Christ Church are still being transported to St Lucy and other students from St Lucy to Christ Church. 
There are also the attendant problems of crowded buses and jammed highways. In addition there are the social issues resulting from unsupervised children wasting time travelling that could be better utilized on their studies and other more fulfilling activities.
The group awaiting bank service also discussed the issue of boys, in co-ed situations underperforming academically because they were being distracted from their studies by the girls, especially after puberty when the hormones start to kick in. This was confirmed by a female teacher who related some examples. 
This teacher also expressed her preference for teaching boys whom she found to be generally more respectful and easier to control than the girls. It was thought that classes should be segregated on gender if there was a problem of returning to the previous system of segregated secondary schools.
The group felt there was consensus in the community on these issues, yet no change was being considered, far less proposed. Naturally, the politicians on both sides of the political divide were lambasted by the discussants for accepting the status quo and not seeming to have the intestinal fortitude to move out of their comfort zone to deal with the issues.
I was left to wonder whether these good people realized the role of our underperforming public servants. The status quo is likely to remain, despite any political will to the contrary, as long as the public servants are allowed to “occupy” their own unproductive comfort zone.
Conditions and attitudes within the public service do not appear to have changed all that much from the time long ago when now deceased Prime Minister Errol Barrow referred to such Government employees as behaving as though they were an army of occupation.
Another issue of relevance to the development of education in Barbados and possible changes was the news reported by the Sunday Times of London on July 3 that there had been a continuing decline in academic achievements by students across the country since the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was abolished. The argument for discontinuing the SAT was that teachers and students were focusing too much on academics and students were not educationally “rounded”. 
Where have I heard that argument before? Would the same decline occur in Barbados in the absence of the 11-Plus? A little incentive obviously goes a long way!
Peter Webster is a retired portfolio manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former senior agricultural officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.


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