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Thursday 18 July 2019
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Slipping through the cracks

FIGURES disclosed by Minister of Education Anthony Garcia – that suggest about seven per cent of the student population got no passes at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exam in May and June – are disturbing and demand priority attention.

Garcia revealed 1,486 students got no passes out of a total of 21,520 who sat CSEC. While this seven per cent figure is better than the regional average of 13 per cent, none can take comfort in the fact that there are clearly students slipping through the cracks of our secondary school education programme.

Undoubtedly, the objective of the programme is not to raise pass figures. The objective of education is to increase the capacity for critical thought and reasoning. Yet, such a significant proportion of students who do not manage to pass a single subject is a sign that students are being failed by the system on both counts.

All stakeholders need to get to the bottom of this. Teachers and schools must identify what has gone amiss and the Ministry of Education must provide adequate oversight of this situation. Such oversight is essential if the proper support can be supplied.

The overall focus of any secondary school is to provide a safe environment in which learning can take place. Unfortunately, there have been serious challenges to this. Schools have experienced problems with indiscipline and inadequate security, diverting focus away from what should be the bedrock of any education institution: learning.

It’s not clear if there is a link between the unfavourable conditions that have developed in some schools and low levels of performance, but such a link is plausible. What is clear, however, is that current arrangements to deal with students with special learning needs have much room for improvement.

The State has in the past sought to increase the stock of officials at schools with training to deal with special needs students. However, the startling figures presented by the minister this week show how those efforts have to be bolstered. With the new school term soon upon us, officials need to ensure all measures are in place to ensure students are able to function in a safe and secure environment, and that all infrastructural needs are also met.

What will become of the students who have obtained no passes? They cannot be allowed to disappear into oblivion. A serious intervention has to occur, both to understand what happened in the school system and to assist these students going forward.

“The future of this nation lies in the school bags of our children,” our first prime minister, Dr Eric Williams, famously said. As we prepare to celebrate 56 years of independence at the end of this month, efforts to provide appropriate levels of education need to be bolstered.

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