The high school achievement scores produced in the Federation each year for the last several decades, but especially the last two, have been impressive indeed. Relative to the other countries in the OECS, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis has continued to produce among the best scores overall in terms of top performers in our high schools. But what about the average or under-performers in our system, which represent at least 90% of our students? That we are able to produce the cream of the milk in the region is a testament to an historically strong educational program – given to us I suppose from the British but perfected by the genius of Caribbean people. Having watched up close and from a distance the educational system though, I am curious what the public who are the consumers of our system think about what aspect of the system deserves the credit for this enviable achievement. Is it the way our schools are managed? Is it the classroom management by the teachers? Can we say that high scores roll out impressively each year because of the political directorate at the top of the educational hierarchical structure? Or can we say that this phenomenon has more to do with the actual day to day administration by the officers at the top of the educational civil service, such as PEO and HER officers? Interestingly, in Nevis over the past twenty or more years, it has been a woman serving as Principal Education Officer (PEO) and performing the roles of educational officers. What’s happened to the men, particularly when we continue to astutely point out the lag in the performance of boys and the dropout rate favoring males over females? Perhaps the female heads of the department are responsible for the high achievement scores? Maybe it is a combination of all of the above? I would give the ribbons to the dedicated and very hard working teachers, who despite severe limitations in the system have continued to harness the gold in our “brightest’students. It must be said too that our Caribbean and Federation culture that has always promoted excellence can take some of the credit. Our teachers find a way each year to inspire and motivate our young people to do well, and for this we should be especially proud. We should however find ways to reward and take better care of our teachers. We cannot overestimate their importance to a brighter future for all of us! What about our under-performing students however? How are we doing with them? Those students who are not as motivated for all kinds of reasons or who, despite our best efforts may not achieve at the highest levels of their potential or aptitude? Is our educational system geared toward inspiring, motivating and rewarding them? I say not! In fact it is to my mind our most glaring deficiency. Our average and low achieving students are really our brightest stars! They are the ones who remain home when the top performers go away to study, many of whom never return to make a contribution…..they contribute to other societies. The average and low-achievers are the ones who build and manage our infrastructure. They start businesses and run them. They are strongly represented throughout the civil service; in fact they run the service. They run the length and breadth of the tourism sector, the backbone of the economy. They run our health service and happen to provide ALL of our security in the nation. They ARE the country! Why is it then that our educational system is so geared to marginalize and almost ignore those students who are not getting 12 CXC passes with honors? Should not our system prize, encourage, even praise them? Our long and elaborate graduation ceremonies are only for the “brightest and the best”- the top 1%-10%, while the “most improved”or some similar consolation prize is given begrudgingly to a single individual. Throughout the year and especially at our graduation ceremonies, we need to recognize the emotional intelligence, the non-academic strengths, the intelligence lodged in other aspects of the brains of many of our students. It is high time that we figure out a way to address the various learning styles and methods of some of our students who don’t fit the mould that we have been teaching to for centuries. A boy or girl who may have attention deficit hyperactive disorder or who learn better visually, or whose relational, verbal or creative brain is far more developed than the left-brained mathematical or literature driven orientation that we are conditioned to recognize, desperately needs instruction, guidance and stimulation. Or students whose natural business acumen need cultivation and proper guidance? Some of the most successful business men and women, the best political leaders actually came from academically low-achieving backgrounds. We can intentionally and deliberately create more of those if we change the way our system now works. At the very least we need a lot more “extra-curricular”- the performing arts such as drama, music, dance, etc., along with more of our resources put into the hands-on vocationally oriented kinds of classes. Long gone are the days where the only professions we were interested in recognizing were medicine and law. We are living in a different world, but our educational system hasn’t changed one bit. A library can be filled with the material out there with the available research that has been done and the amount of writing about this subject. It is high time that we in the Caribbean and particularly in our region and Federation move beyond our comfort zones and both recognize and develop the brains of the vast majority of our children (Nevis lags behind St. Kitts in this regard). This will improve our society by leaps and bounds. It will do more than we can imagine to stave off some of the criminality and delinquency that many of our students turn to (although ironically, St. Kitts lags behind Nevis on this score). Some of them go that route because they are bored, do not feel significant and their social and academic needs are not fully addressed….. sometimes not at all. They despair since they feel so invisible in school, which they realize is not really for them. Much of their “behavioral problems”which challenge the otherwise competent teachers is a direct result of the fact that no one is appreciating that they learn differently and that their interests and brains work differently. It is high time that our political leaders direct some of their aggression and with a little vision and foresight, create programs that can direct and train the very capable teaching fraternity to provide for the learning needs of ALL of our students……or get people on board who can or will. Graduations would be a lot more interesting, since they wouldn’t be 2-3 hours in length only bigging up the supposed “best and the brightest”.
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