Submitted by Looking Glass
Why is it that we tend to need or require outsiders, especially those who know little or nothing about the country, to tell us what to do? Is it because it is easier to accept the views of external others, or because it saves us from the painful business of thought and investigation?
According to the Advocate (2/8/2011) the UNICF and the Education Ministry will collaborate on an education project involving 1) a survey of special educational institutions and 2) assessment of teaching and learning at the primary level. We are told that “special problems will be identified and addressed to ensure equity—among other things—across the system.” I do not recall having heard or read much if anything about our “special educational institutions” by the Ministry or officials and wonder who generated the idea. To survey what does not exist suggests the hand of external forces. If so it is likely the survey will be based on theoretical and or philosophical assumptions.
The project as reported suggests the existence of special institutions and the existence of a large number of ‘disadvantaged’ kids. How many special education institutions if any do we have? Does special education relate to mentally and or physically disadvantaged kids? If so how many such kids exist? Historically the incidence of such ‘disadvantaged’ kids has been at best very miniscule. If we now have a large number of such kids in the last 20 or so years it says a lot about the health of the population. The implications are hardly encouraging.
Does special education relate to slow and or below average kids? The existence of such kids is a fact of life in all societies. Nowhere is ability standard across board nor can it be created. Little children go to school and learn. Our value system stressed education as the key to success: to get ahead or to get by. The former meant a white collar job and or pursuit of a post secondary education, the latter meant a trade. Parents sent their kids to private lessons, and along with family, friends and some teachers helped the kids along. It would appear that things have changed in more ways than one. But no special education system can replace that crucial component, nor can it turn the ‘dunce’ into a scholar. On the other hand the dunce given the national socio-economic environment could turn out to be a successful businessman or tradesman. Many Bajans and West Indians including some who failed at the secondary level have done very well in North America.
Let us assume they are 100 or more such kids in each of the North, South, East and West of the country. Are we going to establish a single facility in each region or a department in the each school to accommodate them? I guess we will need specially trained teachers. So will Cave Hill be asked to establish a special education department, or will they be sent overseas for training?
In terms of equity and teaching there was/is no shortage of primary schools or teachers. The same subjects are taught everywhere and there was/is free lunch and health care. Those who failed were allowed to repeat the year. The notion of equity implies ‘imbalances’ within the primary system. Teachers come with varying ability some of which is ‘natural.’ Does imbalances relate to a shortage in trained teachers? If so then, thanks to Mother Nature, there has been and will always be an imbalance which no amount of teacher training can correct. In spite of the shortcomings, real or implied, the end-product when compared to some other places is to be commended. Try giving the Eleven Plus exam to US kids. The results may astound you. Lowering the standards to accommodate the ‘disadvantaged’ however defined in the name of equity would be a great disservice to both the kids and country. A case can be made for changes in the curriculum and presentation but that is beyond the intended survey.
Finally just how does one survey what does not exist? It would seem the project is based on assumptions, in which case the project will likely be a self-fullfilling prophecy. We run the risk of falsely labeling kids as “disadvantaged” in order to prove the point. As I see it the crucial problem(s) is not at the primary level but at the secondary and tertiary levels and will be addressed next time. Our educational institutions need to embrace a curriculum that trains/teaches kids to be self reflective, critical and innovative especially in the social sciences.