Children are not sent to school to learn to fail

Dear Editor,

The headmaster of Christianburg Wismar Secondary School has created some ruffles and brought into the open once again the Education Ministry’s new approach as it relates to poor performers by his forthright and determined opposition to its policy. Editor, some repetition from a previous letter I had written, ‘The school that allows a child to drop out is not fit to be called a school,’ (SN, August 2010) is required here. In that letter I said that many of the criticisms were devoid of sound scientific analytical reasoning, and were instead based on archaic, conventional and stereotyped methods which are followed with rigid precision,and which the man in the street cannot be fully blamed for, since he knows only what he knows. Hence the reason for the confusion and simple statements which once again I’m hearing, even from supposedly intelligent people, and which are being repeated ad nauseam like the refrain of a song. The Ministry of Education must bear the full weight of the blame for this confusion, since they did not properly provide information on and promote its new approach. I have since noted the Minister of Education responded in SN of Dec 4, stating that a circular titled ‘Grade Repetition Retention and Automatic Promotion’ had been distributed in May stating how this approach was to be done. Still it seems that many parents and even teachers are not fully aware.

Nevertheless they are once again forced to define and defend their position on this issue in a comprehensive and lucid manner, so that nothing remains vague and everyone gets a clear picture and understanding of what is intended. But as was mentioned before, no one in the Education Department, not one teacher raised aloud an objection; everyone took it in silence, except for pockets of rumbling and grumbling behind curtains. Why is it that we are so afraid to take a stand on matters that are considered not to be in our best interest? Are we that sheepish? But I was surprised upon reading that 90% of the schools heads had expressed disapproval of the ministry’s policy, as was reported SN of Nov 12. I have noted also that while the general feeling is in agreement that poor performers should not be promoted, it is so sad that there seems not to be any genuine concern for those very students; there is a kind of put-down, disregard and even rejection; the unfortunate students it appears have become the victims, the butt of condemnation instead of the act itself.

Dear readers, let’s get one thing clear here: I am not in the least suggesting that poor performers should be promoted for promotion’s sake and left unattended; that would be utterly foolish and counterproductive. A successful completion of the curriculum is of much more importance and value than merely sitting through classes. But some questions passed through my mind: Why should the students performing well cease to do so because of having poor performers in their midst? Why would a child consciously accept not acquiring knowledge which will ultimately serve him/her well? And where is the parent in all of this? The argument advanced that the child who did not perform well in a lower form will similarly not be able to do so in the higher form, should be taken with a grain of salt; it is not correct. Sir Thomas mentioned that the ministry should look again at the policy and “tweak it a bit, modify it,” and that he preferred a seven-year cycle which would accommodate some students who were likely to fail at some point. This to my mind is a good suggestion, which will create room for slow performers. This is the kind of concern that is definitely needed and should be considered to see that these children are attended to and are brought up to acceptable levels, not just to pass them through as some are ridiculously suggesting.

The cardinal point must be this: at the end of the day whatever is done, however it is done, it must be tailored to the advantage of the child, based on and guided by the ‘No child left behind concept.’ I am sure that every parent will agree that it is worth the effort spent in ensuring the success of his/her child, bearing in mind that a school is a social institution that is not only designed for the quick ones, but also for plodders to whom equal attention and opportunity must be given. Children do not go to school to learn to fail. A child encouraged to perform will not sit idly by except that child has some serious deficiency.

One good purpose which this issue serves is to put under the spotlight defaulting teachers who are tardy during regular school periods, deliberately creating the conditions for extra lessons which have now become a big business, and which many do only for the money. It also highlights the number of times lessons are not taught when a teacher is absent for whatever reason. I’ll end with the caption of the letter quoted above” ‘The school that allows a child to drop out is not fit to be called a school.’ This I think is uppermost in Sir Thomas’s mind, hence the stand taken by him.

Yours faithfully,
Frank Fyffe