I was given a rude awakening recently as a first-time parent in our public secondary school system, beginning September this year. Virtually all the issues and problems confronting our children nationally were rolled out at a parent conference at my child’s school, Richard Ishmael Secondary, in November. It was discovered that the Ministry of Education was the principal source of the factors contributing to the failure of many of our children during their secondary school years. I assumed the responsibility of drafting a letter to the School’s principal which outlined those issues which had to be addressed at the administrative level and which required cooperation from the Ministry of Education.
At the parent conference it was found that the Ministry of Education had so overcrowded the school with children at the Grade Seven level that another class was permanently established in the School’s library, barring any regular use of that facility by other students of the school. Additionally, one other class had been split into two, within the same classroom, with a couple of blackboards being poorly used to divide the two classes. Based on a sight estimate of the students in the library and split classes, the Ministry of Education had overcrowded the school in Grade Seven alone by close to 50 students. No effort had been made to check on the prevalence of overcrowding across the entire school.
The second major problem created by the Ministry of Education was that it failed to meet the School’s staffing requirements for teachers since the beginning of the term, resulting in many subjects being inadequately delivered and the students being very often unsupervised. The overcrowding of the classes and their increase in number only compounded the problems faced by the school’s available teachers.
These two factors contributed to the heightened levels of indiscipline faced by teachers and the administration. I myself had discussed this issue with the school’s administration earlier in the term, dealing in particular with female students being sexually and physically harassed even at the Grade Seven level. At the time I had proposed that the administration address the problem with the entire school through assemblies. It is noteworthy here that inadequate teaching staff only compounds the problem of indiscipline as students now find themselves more unsupervised and more often than not facing off with aggressive students, becoming aggressive themselves as a deterrent mechanism.
We also found out that students were forced to clean their classrooms. Again, we could not understand why inadequate ancillary staff had become a chronic problem which forced our children to spend time cleaning their classes and dirtying their uniforms instead of learning.
I do not know how long this has been going on, but it is suspected that what obtains at Richard Ishmael Secondary School is a pretty fair estimate of what transpires in the lower grade schools across the country. Parents are therefore encouraged to attend their children’s parent/teacher’s meetings and other discussion forums hosted by their child(ren)’s school administrations, and get involved in demanding quality education for their children, now recognized internationally as one of children’s primary rights. They should also chat more with their daughters to ensure that they are not being physically or sexually harassed at school.
The Ministry of Education has obviously been working in the absence of guidelines governing staffing of schools and allocating children across the nation’s public schools. If such guidelines exist, they very clearly were not followed in the case of Richard Ishmael Secondary School. No effort should be spared to correct what is a gross abuse of our children and their right to a proper education, not only at Richard Ishmael, but across the entire country.