I have nothing against prep schools – some of my best friends went to prep schools. I also have nothing against the so-called traditional or non-traditional high schools. I do have something against people feeling like they’re better than other people, and that comes out a lot here.
So Grade Six Achievement Test results came out last week, and as usual children and parents went through a Miss World-scale gamut of emotions, from bitter disappointment to the heights of ecstasy. This year, however, the Ministry of Education conspired to throw a few unexpected twists into the usually simple equation.
Along the lines of 2 + 2 = 4, GSAT placements have always been something like Rich Parent + Private Prep School = Child in Traditional High School. But in a effort to equalize the system (and reduce the burden on these so-called traditional high schools), Minister Ronald Thwaites has announced that students with high averages will be dispersed equally among all schools. What this means for Rich Parents is that their darling, prep school-coddled prodigy will not automatically gain a place in the handful of traditional high schools. The horror.
traditional high school n. colloq.
In Jamaica, most of our high schools are older than we are as a nation. Some of them have been around for hundreds of years and during that time have garnered reputations for turning out high-achieving students. Never mind that they did this through careful filtering of incoming students (the upper class), the majority of Jamaicans nowadays are almost superstitious in their conviction that their child will only succeed if he are she attends one of these schools.
This means that every year these schools are flooded with students who have GSAT averages in the nineties, not to mention the transfers from other schools whose parents want to buy them a better shot at excelling academically. The Minister’s heart is in the right place, but plenty of parents are feeling shafted because their child is being used to ‘elevate the system’ (actual quote from the Gleaner article). Frankly, I find it utterly condescending that these parents feel their children are too above the system to play a part in changing it.
Because you just can’t continue to allow the majority of high achievers to go to the same schools over and over. What happens to the other schools, the hundreds of other schools we have scattered all over the island? The principal of Sts. Peter and Paul Prep School is crying ‘Geography’ as a limiting factor – but proximity to the school has never been a strong factor in GSAT placements, not even in my day. Parents will send their children two parishes away if they think they’ll be getting a better education there. And, in my opinion, her argument is sorely weakened by this quote:
She said another concern was that students were being placed in technical and vocational schools, which required a specific line of study that they were not prepared for.
Which is a fancy way of saying, ‘We trained your children to be academicians, not much good for anything else.’
. . . and this quote:
“The children are crying. They feel as if they have failed,” she said.
Whose fault is it that these children perceive non-traditional high schools as failing schools? It is a failure of the education system if children feel they cannot succeed in any environment they are planted.
This whole thing is just another manifestation of the blatant classism that is the fabric of our society. By virtue of our own ill-founded biases, we’re perpetuating a hierarchy that elevates the elite and devalues the real life situation of the common man. We’re still telling ourselves that we need to send our children to Eurocentric schools in order for them to get anywhere in life because the schools without a history of segregation and subtle racism simply aren’t good enough.
At the end of the day it boils down to (as all social and cultural problems in Jamaica boil down to) changing our mentality, the way we perceive things. And people are going to put everything they have into resisting said change – especially those who benefit most from the current state of affairs – but there is no way we can move forward by clinging to old ideas. The Hon. Robert Nesta M. really knew what he was talking about when he said,
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.