Educational Equality: taking the First Step on a Long Journey

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.

In Conclusion

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.

  1. His ministry banned Charlie Charlie, and he thinks his religion can save Jamaica: []
  2. Students in Kingston are protected by the flat fare they pay on the public bus system but there is no such benefit for the children who live outside of the corporate area []
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

5 Comments

  1. Posted June 9, 2015 at 2:12 PM | Permalink

    Some interesting points. But it IS the parents’ choice to send their children on the bus, because they think it will improve their children’s opportunities in life. It should be the parents’ choice. How do you expect Jamaican parents to “hold all schools by the same standards” meanwhile? They cannot and do not. Going to a “good school” is a means of advancement for many children from depressed areas and there are many examples of this in society. How is telling children they must “grow where they’re planted” (Minister Thwaites’ words) and not aspire to anything outside their own small environment going to help them to progress educationally or in any other way? In the short term, it will only exacerbate the elitism that already exists. I agree though, there is much work to be done to achieve equality.

    • Posted June 9, 2015 at 3:10 PM | Permalink

      People make choices based on what is available to them. What is made available to citizens is a matter of public policy, not simply individual choice. Since public policy is shaped by what people demand, and what they push their legislators and policymakers to do, then it does matter how parents respond. Clearly, it benefits the elites when poor and working-class families accept their second-class status, and accept that their communities simply cannot have “good schools”, and that a necessary part of the mobility requires them to leave where they grow up. That’s just a great way for the more privileged to pat themselves on the back and for government to continue to shell out not just money and accolades, but also stack the system against the majority of young people. That nonsense has got to stop. It will stop when parents work across class lines to fight for equity, and when they refuse to accept the notion that some communities are not entitled to good schools.

    • Karee
      Posted June 9, 2015 at 6:01 PM | Permalink

      To a point it should be the parent’s choice but a 50-mile daily commute, for a teenaged student, should be illegal. Our system should equip all schools equally, including with children of diverse abilities.

      • Posted June 9, 2015 at 9:14 PM | Permalink

        I agree with you, Karee. Really, my simple point is that parents want what is best for their children and they want to maintain that right to choose – however inequitable the system is.

        • Karee
          Posted June 9, 2015 at 10:28 PM | Permalink

          I understand, but laws in other countries protect children from such extreme journeys, so should the laws here. People move across school districts in the US, for example, to go to their desired school. We have to make all schools equally desirable somehow, and we won’t achieve that unless we discontinue performance-based placement. High school is no longer a privilege, it is even now funded by the taxpayer. If my tax dollar is going towards education, I don’t want it contributing to such a biased system. It will be a hard pill to swallow but I am convinced it’s for the best. Within the corporate area, kids can easily attend any school without issue of distance and it should probably be a raffle, but those of us who live rurally need to be zoned.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*

Subscribe without commenting