I write in reference to Education Minister Mr. Holness’ articulation of an educational policy initiative to prevent primary school students who do not meet a threshold on examinations to be prevented from promotion, transfer or placement to the high school level.
This policy is short-sighted, as it fails to address the substance of the problem with the education system and presents many additional foreseeable problems.
The policy initiative fails to acknowledge that the Jamaican education system is dysfunctional. Attempting to diagnose a solution for the education system without addressing the causes of the problem is counter-productive.
A functional education system must include curricula designed for children with special needs, which includes diagnostic evaluation and placement for gifted, behavioural and remedial students. The lack of progress of Jamaican students is due to the deficiency of Specialist teachers, psychologists and clinics that are part of the daily lives of students in other nations.
The literature has shown that an age-appropriate placement for primary school students who are the same chronological age is most appropriate. Keeping students in primary school would undermine the nonacademic benefits of chronological age placement such as the enhancement of social skills and self-esteem, as well as the provision of age-appropriate role models, which is the most important benefit. Children socialize and learn with their age group. Issues of sexual impropriety between students are only exaggerated when age groups are significantly mixed.
The policy initiative also ignores the statistics. The Ministry of Education and Youth Teacher’s Report for the Grade Six Achievement Test 2007 shows the following national figures:
These national average scores are appalling in general, and frightening when focus is placed on Composition in particular. Analysis of these figures may also suggest that many of these students could be held back for several years (or potentially forever in extreme cases), which would exacerbate the problems outlined above.
The statistics also provide insight regarding the quality and potential productivity of our workforce in less than ten years. These students suffer from barriers to academic achievement, which include, but are not limited to: Lower socioeconomic status; Inadequate nutrition and sustenance; A lack of intellectual stimulation at home; An unstable family structure and home environment that is not conducive to learning; A lack of academic role models; Inadequate discipline and guidance; No access to learning tools such as the internet and other reference sources; and Parents who are not exposed to nor understand child psychology and development.
On the structural level of analysis of the public education system, matters such as: Lack of resources, textbooks and library books, as well as overcrowding due to large class sizes, and lack of sanitary conditions in public schools operate to significantly undermine the learning of students.
To offer insightful policy considerations to address the matter, one must include macro-structural causes of collective academic progress such as: the state of the economy, socioeconomic status, demographics, the institution of the family, the level of crime and violence, and health care, which all have profound direct and indirect effects on educational attainment. As such, keeping students in primary school should be deemed a red herring that fails to address the dysfunction of the education system.