Level(er) Playing Field (I really hate this cliché)
Education Minister, Ronnie Thwaites, isn’t my favorite politician, actually he was pretty close to becoming my least favorite1 until he made the bold move of deciding to place students in high schools closer to their homes. While the primary reason he gave – students gathering at bus parks – is ridiculous, I completely support this change as not necessarily sending children to the closest school, but placing them within a certain radius of their homes is a good first step in achieving educational equality.
Most Jamaicans who are opposed to such a move argue that students who work hard deserve to be placed in a ‘good’ school, which ignores the fact that the ‘good’ schools are better only because they are presented with the cream of the crop, and not because of anything else. The ‘bad’ schools are terrible because they receive the students with the worst scores. Of course, there are other factors such as physical and human resources that influence the quality of the school experience but, because you can’t plant corn and expect peas fi grow, the basic result remains the same.
It disgusts me to see schools labelled as good or bad when each does not receive a fair mix of students. Are we are so grounded in our elitist classism that the thought of equality, even in the basic right of education, unnerves us? Why are we so uncomfortable with the idea of our children going to school with their neighbors? Let us reserve judgment for 5 or 10 years down the line when each school receives a reasonably similar mix, when some of the greats will have fallen and many nontraditional schools will have drastically improved and no student will have to hang his head in shame, or remove his school tie on the streets to avoid unfair judgment.
Hellishly Long Journeys
I used to take a two hour journey to Kingston each day for work and many students, passing dozens of schools long the way, shared the commute with me. Only, they were not allowed to sit for the duration of the trip unless they had paid the full adult fare, neither were they allowed on the smaller buses; they had to stand and wait until a large bus was at its seated capacity then beg for standing room on a 90-minute bus ride, which they would get only if a full-fare-paying adult didn’t get there before the bus left.
The stress of waking early enough to catch a bus, allocating reserve time in case there is no room for you on it and being thrown about by undisciplined drivers for such a long journey would severely limit any child’s brain function, then there’s the financial burden on the parents which often translates into an unhappy child2 . Before you refer me to any poignantly moving photos of the journeys children in remote parts of the world take to school on a daily basis, remind yourselves that they are taking these journeys to get to the closest school, any school and not just one that satisfies their parents’ need to make them feel better than their neighbors. They are simply satisfied to be getting an education and no child is better off after a four hour commute, regardless of how superior it makes him/her or his/her parents feel.
It is full time that Jamaica takes education seriously enough to understand that applying classism and elitism to learning won’t translate into a better society. Geographic placement is a good first step in ensuring fair opportunities for all children and until schools are fed from the same stock, we don’t have the right to pit them against each other. Jamaica needs to hold all our schools by the same standard and provide them with equal physical, financial and human resources, feed them an academically diverse cohort each year, then we can talk about paying teachers and ranking schools based on performance.