Our report on Thursday about the performance of students in Linden made for grim reading. At the opening of an education conference Region Ten Chairman Mortimer Mingo noted the great decline in pupil performance across the region, and said that between 1991 and 2001 regional schools had always been among the top ten at the Grade Six Assessment. Since then, however, the schools had barely managed to place one or two students in the top 100. The reason for the dismal results he placed squarely at the feet of the teachers; if the children were not passing examinations, he said, then teachers were not teaching. He adverted to a Form One class of 147 children who sat an end-of-term examination, 143 of whom failed.
There was worse to come from Regional Councillor and Chairman of the Regional Welfare Committee Valerie Adams, who referred to the findings of a recent forum where Linden students complained about being forced into sexual relationships with male and female teachers; parents who introduced children to prostitution in order to survive economically; and parents who sexually abused children, among other things.
Exam results are a crude indicator of the health of an education system, but when the decline in results has been as dramatic as this, then there is clearly something fundamentally wrong. However, Mr Mingo’s remarks as reported were devoid of any accompanying statistics which might have given his statements about the teachers some context. One would have liked to have known, for example, how many teacher vacancies there are in Linden and the region as a whole. If a school lacks its complement of teachers, then with the best will in the world (depending how many gaps there are) some subject areas and some children will be neglected, educationally speaking.
Secondly, one wonders how many trained and/or qualified teachers there are in the system. The quality of the teaching is every bit, if not more important than just having enough adults to place in front of a class. A teacher who does not know what he or she is doing, on account of inexperience or inadequate training or both, simply will not be in a position to deliver the kind of results Mr Mingo would like to see.
And then one wonders too what the state of the school inspectorate is in the region. The decline in performance clearly isn’t a problem which has suddenly appeared; it must have been evident long before this. Are there enough qualified inspectors in Region 10 to monitor the situation in schools and to report on educational institutions in crisis? And if there are enough inspectors, and they have so reported, do the regional authorities have the capability of doing anything about the problem? If they don’t have the mechanisms in place or the means to help schools under stress, then they should not be surprised if there are no improvements.
One would also have liked to have been apprised of the truancy rates for the region – especially for Linden, where it is easier for schoolchildren to get away and not be seen. There is, in any case, a good deal of privation in the area, so one would hope that the regional educational authorities have explored the matter of parents keeping children out of school in order to help them sell, or earn a living by other means. As in other parts of the country many parents no longer view education as a route to advancement for their children, for reasons which are only too well known. Is there, therefore, an anti-truancy campaign in operation?
The next question one has to ask in respect of the teachers, is the quality of discipline in the Linden schools especially. This newspaper has in the past reported on gang activity in at least one regional school, and clearly it is important to know whether or not that represented an isolated incident. In schools in England, where the salaries are infinitely better than here, teachers are leaving the profession because of the stress of indiscipline in the classroom. Exactly what kind of support, one might ask, is being offered to teachers in terms of student indiscipline and violence by the regional education authorities? If it is anything like that of the Ministry of Education in the case of Georgetown, then it will not be all that helpful.
Over the years teachers have complained of the increasing number of bureaucratic tasks which they have to perform in relation to their jobs. These were originally designed no doubt as a means of keeping tabs on them, to see that they performed, etc. However, the bureaucracy in due course becomes an end in itself, and the authorities presumably feel that if the paperwork is in order, so are the teachers. Not so. Teachers’ time should be taken up mostly by teaching, not writing up this or that for some bureaucrat to scrutinize.
All of the above does not mean to say that the Regional Chairman is not right, and that there are too many teachers not doing their job. In this respect one would like to find out whether Linden especially, suffers from the ‘extra lessons’ syndrome, as do the urban areas along the coast. Parents have frequently complained in respect of Georgetown that some Grade Six teachers more particularly, do not teach in the classroom, and deal with the syllabus in their after-school classes. Those pupils who cannot afford the extra lessons, therefore, simply lose out. This pernicious system has been utilised as a method of augmenting teachers’ salaries.
However, the only way Mr Mingo could investigate the full nature of the dereliction of teachers, would be if, as suggested above, there were regular, unannounced inspections of schools. Some teachers must be working, and it is important to identify who is not, so they can be dealt with, rather than making general statements. It is necessary to have sanctions on those teachers who are not doing their duty.
The most alarming portion of the report came from Ms Adams. The sexual abuse of schoolchildren by teachers which she related cannot be allowed to pass, and the region needs to put in place mechanisms which would allow students to report such abuse outside the framework of the school so it can be investigated and dealt with. Exactly how common it is the Chairman of the Regional Welfare Committee herself probably could not say, but even isolated incidents are utterly intolerable and have to be pursued.
She referred as well to other aberrations, including sexual abuse by parents and the failure to take action in such cases. In those instances too, the regional authorities have to look at the avenues which could be made available to children to report such abuse, and they have to examine the system to ensure that there are arrangements in place for every case to be handled sensitively and systematically followed up. The new Sexual Offences Bill, once it passes into law, will give them a powerful new framework for pursuing such cases.