As is to be expected, the government has tried to put the best spin on the recent CXC results. No doubt, those students who excelled along with the teachers at those schools that did well should be commended. But the results show clearly that despite some excellent individual performances our children as a group continue to under-perform. This is cause for great concern.
If seven out of ten students cannot pass Maths, six out of ten cannot pass English and four out of ten cannot pass with top grades, then we have a national disaster on our hands.
It is difficult to pinpoint any single cause of this problem. But certainly governance must be high up on that list. It is at that level that national priorities are decided. It is there where the decision on how many resources are expended on education and how those resources are used. In short we are found wanting at the level of vision and policy.
A second cause of our poor results to my mind has to do with the way in which education has become a victim of the widening gap between the rich and the poor. It seems even with the naked eye that the results would reveal that the students who do well tend to be those whose parents are able afford extra lessons in a consistent manner and those who do the least well are those who do not have the same opportunities.
And that class polarization in some instances, though not across the board, has an ethnic look to it. We have developed a kind of social apartheid in education that is reflected in the results. And that filters into the wider society. Allied to the second cause is the inability of poor parents and poor communities to offer the kind of supplementary assistance and guidance to the children. The recycling of poverty therefore is one of the major contributing causes of the problem.
Poor people who have to hustle and/or work several jobs to make ends meet obviously do not have the time to oversee and monitor the children’s progress. Allied to that is the decline of the communities as spaces of collective pride, dignity, culture and learning. Education is no longer projected as the gateway to individual and collective overcoming.
Finally, the recycling of the mediocrity that comes out of the school system has implications for the preparation of future groups of students. We recruit some of our teachers from the same pool of under-prepared students and push them into the teaching system without the necessary training needed to close the gap that they bring with them from the school system.
Our politicians tell us how much we need hydroelectricity and some have declared a period of mourning for the seemingly faltering Amaila project. But even if we can get the best hydro project in the world, if we do not pay the same attention to and expend more resources on properly educating our young people, we are going nowhere positive as a nation.
An uneducated nation can never be a productive nation. Education or lack of it has implications for the economy, for cultural uplifment and for social development. It is from this underprepared group of young people that we recruit our teachers, policemen and women and soldiers ‒ those who are tasked with educating the next generation and with maintaining law and order.
Those tears which are being shed for Amaila should be shed for Education. The centrality of hydroelectricity should be coupled with the centrality of Education Overhaul.
The WPA has long called for the declaration of a state of emergency in education and I reiterate that call. We need a vision of where and how education fits into our larger national vision. Arising out of that vision must be the appropriate policy that takes into account the enormity and urgency of the problem. Towards that end I propose the immediate setting up of a commission of inquiry into the state of education, made up of noted educators, to do a comprehensive study of the problem. I also call on the National Assembly to appoint a select committee to investigate the problem. There is need for a new approach to teacher recruitment and training. If the conclusion is that we are in trouble then the training regime for our teachers must proceed from there.
We need more rigorous teacher training both in terms of the skill of teaching and in the securing of a more thorough knowledge base in their subject areas of teaching.
While I believe that turning around our education system is a national issue that must be addressed at the top, I do believe that communities and so-called civil society have an important role to play.
The spirit of volunteerism needs to be rekindled whereby our educators, current and retired, see the development of education not only as entrepreneurship but also as a civic and communal responsibility.
Better remuneration for teachers could also go a long way towards helping to improve the situation. The current salaries paid to teachers are unacceptable. If you pay teachers more, you are in a stronger position to demand more commitment from them. You are also more likely to attract better qualified and more competent applicants.
There is also need for improved accommodation for students. Too many school buildings are in terrible shape. This is not an inviting environment for students and teachers. The safety of the students is another area that needs urgent attention.
If students are in constant fear of physical, sexual and other forms of psychological abuse they are less likely to want to learn and perform well.