(Excerpts of Dr. Friday’s Address to the Nation Pt.1)
Several weeks ago, when I spoke with you about conditions in our country, I promised to continue our conversation on important national issues. Education is such an issue and with schools reopening, a discussion on education is not only timely, but necessary.
Opening of school is an exciting time for our children. As parents, we want the best education for our children. We know it is about preparing them for life. Few things can be more important. The start of the school year brings its own challenges and uncertainties. We accept them and try to meet them as best we can. What we cannot accept however, is the chaos that too often comes with the opening of school.
On opening day this year, many schools were not ready. Students at Prep School were sent back home because the building was still being painted. Grammar School could not reopen because the regular school building was still not ready and their temporary plywood school at Arnos Vale had been assigned to another school. Elsewhere there were delays for a day or two and even for the entire week.
Official confusion now appears to be the norm. This could have been avoided with proper planning. This is not the time for unsubstantiated government statements about being ready. The Minister of Education should get his act together and show leadership and competence; our children and teachers deserve better.
A vision for education
We all know the importance of education. A good education is the best inheritance we can give our children and a sound investment in our country’s future. However, our education system must not place an unbearable burden on families. Parents should look to the new school year with hope, happy that their children are finally returning to the classroom. They should not have to worry unnecessarily about the high cost of textbooks, shoes and school uniforms and ever-increasing registration fees.
Students preparing for CSEC and CAPE exams should only focus on what might be on their test papers and not on how they would pay for their subjects. For those hoping to attend university, they need to know that there is an affordable way to do so; that they won’t have to mortgage the family home and risk everyone’s welfare to pay for their further education.
Our education system must be relevant to the times. It must develop the whole child and instill within him or her an abiding curiosity about the world and an enduring love of learning. At the moment, there is not enough support or focus on creating global citizens.
Performance of the system
Students have received their CSEC and CAPE results. There are some outstanding individual performances, and a few schools performed well. Congratulations to the students, teachers, and parents for those results. But sadly, we know that this is not the whole story; it is only the good part.
The full picture is troubling, as far too many secondary school students do not make it to graduation within the normal five years, or ever. For example, at this year’s graduation ceremony of the Bequia Community High School (my alma mater), the principal reported that of 21 students who started in Form 1, only 3 made it to the graduating class of 2022 (which had a total of twelve students)!
This is not a unique situation. Other schools across the country have poor graduation numbers also. They are not getting the support they need from the government. Consequently, they are failing our children. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has one of the highest rates of repeaters and dropouts in the OECS. This is a serious problem that must be fixed urgently.
It is accepted that a good education provides better options for young people and is an effective way to combat crime and other anti-social behaviour. The escalation in violent crime, especially gun-related killings, demands urgent action from the government to fix our failing education system so that it can provide positive options and more opportunities for our young people. The country needs less rhetoric from the Prime Minister and the government and more constructive action.
We must cater to the diverse needs of students by providing programs that engage students and motivate them to complete secondary school. This requires, not slogans and photo ops, but a real plan to deliver for our children, their parents, and teachers.
Need to reinstate Teachers
Teachers, —they play a vital role in our society. A good teacher inspires children and helps them to develop a love of learning. Yet, we see that many of our best and most experienced teachers remain excluded from the classroom because they were fired by the government for not taking the COVID-19 vaccine. This misguided and hard-headed approach by the government has left schools without sufficient teachers to start the year.
Over 200 teachers remain out of work. Yet, the government says there are not enough teachers and they must hire relief teachers. Why hire inexperienced people to act as teachers when there are over 200 experienced, competent teachers ready to return to work to teach our children? This makes no sense!
The government’s stubborn response has been to tell teachers they must reapply to get back their jobs. This is without any assurance of actually getting back their jobs and pensions and benefits. The teachers rightly see this as adding insult to injury!
The solution is to reinstate the teachers now and welcome them back to the classroom. No one is buying the government’s legalistic excuses and vague promises and the teachers have said they are not “taking the bait”.