The main opposition New Democratic Party is expressing concern over what it says is a high rate of drop-out among secondary school students.
“In the recent graduation ceremonies …, I was again reminded of the poor performance of our secondary schools. Away from the high flyers in the top secondary schools like Grammar School, Girls’ High School, and Thomas Saunders, a worrying picture is emerging,” Opposition Leader and NDP president, Godwin Friday told a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday.
Friday said that contrary to government’s boasts about the performance of the nation’s education system, “the picture of failure looms large”.
“The number of children who enter secondary school give the false impression that a secondary education is available to all. But the stark reality is that in some schools, very little education is taking place. Many children drop out before they reach Form 5 and before the five years it would normally take to make that journey,” he said.
Friday said he recently attended the attended the graduation ceremony of his alma mater, at the Bequia Community High School, which he described as “a proud institution”.
“Only ten children graduated,” Friday said, adding that he was told that only eight of the 28 students who started five years ago graduated.
Two of the students who graduated were transferred in after Form 1.
“What was also striking is that of the 10 who graduated, there was only one boy,” Friday said, adding that he is hoping that the students who graduated do well in their CXC examinations, which is usually taken as the test of successfully completing secondary school.
“How can it be considered progress when only one-third of the students who start in some schools survive to take the exam? I am told that it is not a unique situation at all at the Bequia Community High School. Why are most of the children allowed to drop out of secondary school before they complete the programme?
“Why are there no programmes geared to those likely to drop out early so that they might have a better chance of completing secondary school?” he said.
The opposition leader said that urgency action is needed address this serious problem.
“You can’t just say there is universal secondary education. You can’t just point to the brilliant students who do 19 and 20 subjects and get 18 [Grade] 1s. That is not the way to measure the performance of our education system. We have to look at what is happening to most of the children, to the average children, because, by definition, average is most of the people.”
Friday’s comments came at a press conference in which he spoke about the number of killings in the country over the past few weeks, which have brought to 16 the homicide tally this year.
“I spoke earlier about the terrible crime situation in the country earlier on. This is where it starts. It is doesn’t start here, it gets its fuel here when these youngsters drop out early and can’t find a place in this very difficult economy. We owe them better than that. We, in the New Democratic Party, we will be doing more to find out what is really happening and to find ways and to propose ways in which it can be addressed.”
Friday said he has spoken to the Ministry of Education about the situation in his community.
“But it seems to me that nothing is being done. It is almost to the point where it seems that nothing is worth doing. We can’t treat our children like that. I would like to hear more people talk about what’s happening not just in the Kingstown schools; what happening outside so we get a truer picture of how our secondary school system is performing.”
He said that education “is not going into a door”.
“It is what happens between the ears when you go into that door. And if you don’t transform a mind, there is no education taking place. If you don’t give hope – I mean, I have heard some stories that will break your heart about people who go to school and don’t have the opportunity to finish. We have to do better than that.”