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Non-traditional High School Woes An investigation into the high incidencies of failure within non-traditional high schools Björn D. Burke Education Today Writer
s they were called into the schools administrative office one by one, 12year-old Janelle Taylor* recounts feeling mixed emotions as some of her peers come out smiling from ear to ear with joy, while others emerge teary eyed at the Mona Heights Primary School in which she attended. “Janelle Taylor!” her principal shouted from the admin office! This was it. She was finally going to learn her fate after anticipating her Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) results for weeks. Would she get her dream of being enrolled at the Wolmer’s Girls High School in Kingston following in the footsteps of her older sister? Janelle’s anxiety was short-lived as she went inside the office. Disappointment - her vice principal broke the bad news. She didn’t pass for any of her three choices as signed up by her parents. Instead, she was placed at the Papine High School. This is the story of Janelle’s journey from primary school into her new school, the non-traditional Papine High School. Janelle, now 15 years old, told Education Today of her sheer disappointment
on that fateful day that decided her destiny. “First I never vex or nothing, because I know it was my performance that made me end up at Papine.” says Janelle. Janelle achieved an average of 53 per cent in the GSAT examinations. At the time, Janelle said she was most concerned with how she was going to tell her mother that she ended up being placed at Papine High. Janelle’s mother Sonia Taylor* encouraged her daughter to press on even though she was disheartened by being placed at the school. Taking her mothers advice, she did just that. Future nurse, Janelle is actively involved in several school activities including the Papine High School Octagon Club. While Janelle makes attempts at making the best of her stay at the Papine High School, there are several factors which hinders her progress. Papine High School was established on its present site in 1959. It is located in Papine, off the Gordon Town Road on the edge of residential and commercial areas of Kingston 6 in the parish of St. Andrew. It is also in close proximity to poverty stricken communities such as Mud Town. According to the National
Education Inspectorate (NEI), agency within the Ministry of Education, Papine High is a large school with a capacity of 600, but accommodates approximately 1289 students. With 81 teachers, the student teacher ratio is 17:1. The NEI marks the average daily attendance as being satisfactory at 84 per cent. Most students that attend the Papine High School come from low socio-economic backgrounds. The school works a shift system, with older students on shift one and younger students on shift two. Janelle’s mother Sonia says that Janelle likes school and tries very hard at it, but she is distracted by the acts of delinquency that takes place within the school. “Everyday Janelle come tell me about a different fight at school…nuff things happen in that school that shouldn’t happen. The students them indiscipline” says Sonia. Speaking to the type of students that she is made to attend school with everyday, Janelle told Education Today that most of her peers don’t seem to care much for school and only attend in order to “collect lunch money”. The NEI report of Papine High School uncovered that many students are
“Practice without improvement is meaningless.” - www.businessquotes.com
Page 3 April 2012 not motivated; thus, bored students with a poor work attitude are a feature of many lessons and the use of research skills and problem solving techniques is underdeveloped throughout the school. Janelle’s stay at her non-traditional high school seems to be an unpleasant experience, however this is not the case for all students attending varying non-traditional high schools around the island.
Where does the problem start? Near the end of Grade 6, students are given the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in Mathematics, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Writing. The mathematics component of the test checks students’ ability to use numbers, to compute, to measure and estimate; to organise and interpret information in tables or graphs, and to recognise basic geometric shapes. In the language arts component, students are tested to see how well they understand and use Standard English when reading and writing. The writing task also assesses students’ ability to do simple tasks such as organise a paragraph or fill out a form, and do more creative tasks
such as write a report, letter or story. At the very least, students should come out at an echelon allowing them to matriculate to the secondary level of education. All the tests given under the programme will tell students, teachers and parents how well a student is performing for his/her age and grade level. The teacher and principal can use these results to identify the areas in which the student is doing well, and the areas in which he or she needs more assistance. They can then work with parents to correct any weaknesses that students may have. Students, having benefited from these corrections, should perform well during, and at the end of primary schooling, and should be able to cope more easily with work at the secondary level. While GSAT is seemingly well designed, it has its fare share of problems. In February 2012, The Education Ministry has earmarked $10.3 million Jamaican Dollars to hire a consultant to review GSAT. Minister of Education Ronnie Thwaites said a review of the system is essential. Thwaites sited
Contributed:Minister of Education Ronnie Thwaites
GSAT as having several flaws. Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) president Paul Adams reiterates the sentiments of GSAT having shortcomings stating that the curriculum is too heavily content-based, and the time frame allotted for the test is too short. Children are placed in a secondary school depending on not only their performance in the test, but also the choice of school as stated by parents on the registration form, and how near the school is to the student’s home. The trouble is however, that the test is highly competitive and several students achieve an acceptable pass. There are fewer resources to meet an increased demand for those desirous of attending the traditional high schools. As such, those students who have achieved an acceptable pass, when they fall short of matriculating into the well sought after traditional high schools they are placed at a nontraditional high school closest to their address. Consequently, several students that have achieved an ‘acceptable pass’ are mixed with those who are not functioning at a level that qualify for matriculation to secondary level institutions. After Education Today interviewed administrators in select non-traditional high schools in Kingston, and St. Andrew, several of them reproved GSAT as being unfair as most students who make it to nontraditional high schools are barely
“The secret of education is respecting the pupil.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Education Today capable of reading or writing.
April 2012 makes it even harder for them to do their job. Michael Simpson* 15-year-old student at the Red Hills All-Age school told us at Education Today that the teachers don’t seem to be motivated by what they do and are not getting across to the students in an effective manner. “Nuff times it look like them can’t bother with us…” said Michael.
Sign at Red Hills All-Age
Senior teacher at the Red Hills All-Age School, located in the hills of rural St. Andrew, Jamaica, told Education Today “We are struggling here because we have to start from scratch with them, (students) carrying them up from basic school stage”. Some students at the Red Hills All-Age School were reported to have been enrolled in remedial classes to get up to an acceptable standard. “It’s like a crash course in reading and writing and basic maths for some of them, they really are coming from nowhere.” said the senior teacher. She also noted that the school suffers from a “gross inadequacy” in resources as several students at the school have to share several facilities within the school. She noted that the attitude of the students shows disinterest in schooling which
Could this be a vicious cycle? Both teachers and students display an attitude that suggests that they are demotivated as a result of factors such as a lack of resources found within the schools, amongst others. Over numerous years, the high school education system in Jamaica has experienced several
shortcomings in its services provided to students. The education system in these high schools, particularly those that are considered to be non-traditional is of significance as we have seen time and time again examples of pupils who seemingly just 'pass through' the system. These high school graduates have been said to be unable to function at the level they ought to be at and are not competent in several areas. When the junior high schools and all-age schools were upgraded in the early 80s in an attempt to ease the crisis of too few secondary schools to meet the demand of the nation, the name “high school” was affixed. However, while they were ‘upgraded’, several of their facilities were not. As such, some of these non-traditional schools are being made to either ‘sink or swim’ as they make the choice
A Section of the Red Hills All-Age School
“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.” - Plato
Page 5 April 2012 between ensuring success through hard work and dedication with scarce resources, or simply going through the paces daily until the end of their high school lives. The high incidences of cases where pupils are made to just 'move on through' the high school system resulted in an increasing number of unemployable individuals within society. The issue of whether the availability of resources, or lack there of, as well as the level of motivation displayed by students attending these non-traditional schools may become even more topical in years to come. The issue of the high incidences of failure within these non-traditional high schools materializes as a part of the discussion about education reform. Yet, there has been very little discussion of what needs to be done to improve, or banish the growing crisis. The term non-traditional high school is one which has come about based on historical development of secondary education in Jamaica. It can be defined as a secondary level school in which has been upgraded to high school status from a junior high or all-age school status. Nontraditional high schools often have little resources in comparison to the traditional high school variant, and most often has a high number of low performing students from the primary school level. Students
who are enrolled in these nontraditional high school systems are largely at an additional disadvantage because of these scarce resources. The problems are then amplified by the fact that they are all mainly low performers. As we seek to uncover the conditions under which students are made to learn in Jamaican nontraditional high schools, one begs to question the conditions that are responsible for the poor level of performance amongst students attending these high schools. According to the (NEI) out of 158 all-age schools and 58 junior high schools island-wide, the standard pupil to teacher ration in all-age schools (grades 7 - 9) is 35:1 and junior high schools (grades 7 - 9) 30:1. In direct contrast, secondary high schools (with Grades 7 - 11) pupil to student ratio is 25:1, and secondary high schools (with grades 12 and 13) is 20:1. The aforementioned junior high schools and all-age schools are often referred to as non-traditional schools while the majority of secondary high schools are considered traditional. Taking cues from the learning theory of behaviourism, learning is manifested by a change in behaviour, the environment shapes behaviour and finally the principles of contiguity (how close in time two events must be for a bond to be formed) and reinforcement (any means of
increasing the likelihood that an event will be repeated) are central to explaining the learning process. For behaviourism, learning is the acquisition of new behaviour through habituation. This theory would then imply that students in a high school are taught by the ‘drilling’ of information into their heads with practice, repetition, and learned behaviour by way of proficient teachers. Without the availability of ample attention given to each student because of outrageous student to teacher ratios, it goes without saying that a lack in human resources can be blamed for high rates of failures in these schools. To further put things into perspective, former Prime Minister of Jamaica and Minister of Education Andrew Holness boldly named a few schools as 'failing schools', requiring special intervention in September 2011. His mandate to provide intervention in four secondary institutions he labelled as failing schools due to their poor performances indicated that they needed assistance. Making no
Contributed: Former PM Holness
“Neglecting small things under the pretext of wanting to accomplish large ones in the excuse of a coward.” - Alexandra David-Neel
apology, Holness stated that the operations of schools are up for public scrutiny as long as they are financed by the government. The schools that were labelled and earmarked for special intervention were Marcus Garvey Technical High in St Ann, Glengoffe High School in St. Catherine, Balaclava High in St. Elizabeth and Holy Trinity High School in Kingston. The complaints ranged from deterioration in discipline, to poor academic performance. The aforementioned schools were tested by an index of performance, which captured a number of critical variables, including public perception of the schools and the pass rate of students in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations. Based on his observations after gaining insight into the schools shortcomings, Holness offered to give a helping hand to the leadership of the institutions financially. Holness said “Too many Jamaican students end up in dysfunctional schools that are not able to serve their needs, and their talents and strengths are wasted, lost to the society forever.” He added that generations of students have been allowed to pass through school without even attaining literacy skills, and the situation will not be allowed to continue. After the intervention of the Holy Trinity High School, the schools principal
Sadpha Bennett noted that the school had issues with the level of effectiveness and efficiency within the school. Marlene Hines, Director of Documentation in the Information & Access Service Unit at the Ministry of Education told Education Today that the label of a non-traditional high school is not meant to be derogatory. Hines states that the term non-traditional high school is not meant to cast any judgement on the schools, but it has arisen out of history. “The traditional high schools were established from the plantation system, when we had freedom from slavery, and before that the plantation owners used to send their children to England to get their secondary education” says Hines. Historically, the bourgeoisie, the social class that controlled the means of production (plantation owners) sent their children away to England in order to receive a secondary education. The proletariat, the social class in which consisted of industrial workers who offered the fruit of their labour having no capital or property (slaves) were largely uneducated before emancipation. Post-emancipation, secondary schools came about within the island of Jamaica which was attended only by the children of the bourgeoisie. Hines said “Those are the schools that are established
as a replica of the English grammar school, called traditional high schools.” In attempts to become educated, early versions of non-traditional high schools surfaced which catered to the needs of the working class peoples. “The non-traditional high schools are the schools that have now gotten the high school label…they were junior secondary schools which were later upgraded to secondary schools…these schools were established for the working class.” Hines added. In her experience, Hines noted that she has seen many issues with the non-traditional high schools in comparison to the traditional high schools. “The problem was with resources. Although they got the status of high schools, the traditional high schools were still performing better because the social demand was there. The parents wanted their children to go to those schools (traditional high schools) because they were the schools that were performing, because the elites go to those schools, and we’re still having that problem” said Hines. She added “The schools were not equipped with the resources, and the types of students that were being fed into the non-traditional schools are still not able to perform at the level they should be at.” In an interview conducted by the Jamaica Gleaner on June 22, 2009, past president of the Jamaica
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Page 7 April 2012 Teachers Association (JTA) Doran Dixon stated “A shortage of resources is placing an additional burden on non-traditional high schools already struggling with the quality of students placed in these institutions” highlighting a resource gap between students in the traditional high school system versus those at the non-traditional high schools. He added that the education system needs to get to a point where institutions are no longer looked at as non-traditional versus traditional high schools as the present classification is perpetuating a gap in the education system. In keeping with the behaviourism learning theory, immediate past president of the JTA stated that “Children learn differently and they have to be taught differently, and that is what we need to recognise and acknowledge before we can treat the problem." The suggestion of reducing class sizes due to the burden placed on teachers because of overcrowded classrooms came into play, as well as addressing the absence of some form of resource that facilitates and addresses the social and emotional challenges that a student may face. Notwithstanding the fact that schools branded non-traditional have developed a negative reputation in society when compared to their traditional counterparts, the education system in Jamaica has gone through
several improvements in years gone by. Several non-traditional high schools are slowly managing to shake the stigma associated with non-traditional schools in the island. The Mona High School located on Mona Road, Kingston 6, St. Andrew is one such example.
Sign at the Mona High School
In seeking to further uncover the gaps within the non-traditional schooling system, Vice Principal of the Mona High School Rohan Marshall told Education Today that a better quality of students based on GSAT results are made to go traditional high schools while students who score averages below 60s and 50s go to nontraditional high schools. He says by virtue of that, the performance level of students in non-traditional high schools as opposed to traditional high schools is logically lower. Mona High School, the first upgraded high school in Kingston and St. Andrew, are starting at a
disadvantage with the quality of students who are matriculated. In addressing the issue of the stigma attached to non-traditional high schools underperforming, Marshall suggested it is only a label. “The traditional high schools will perform better, but in my view things are slowly changing. The non-traditional high schools are now holding their own in terms of general performances within the school…they are performing quite well in the CXC examinations. The Mona High School is doing quite well, based on the rigour in recent years, than some of the traditional high schools In fact just to compare Mona High School with some of the traditional high schools, two years ago, Mona High School was rated as the best upgraded high school in English; first in English, and second in Math of all the non-traditional high schools. With that sort of performance in these two core subject areas, we are actually performing better than some of the traditional high schools…I think we are getting better quality students due to the fact that we are doing quite well, the Ministry has recognized that and so we get better quality students.” Hines told Education Today as he dispels the idea that all non-traditional high schools are failing, poor performing schools. “At one time, we were getting
“What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the human soul.” - Joseph Addison
students who were performing in the 50s in terms of the GSAT averages, but now we are getting students in the 60s and 70s so we are turning out better quality students. Last year, 167 persons did English, and 161 passed. This is the highest amount of persons we’ve had passing the English CSEC examinations. I would go as far saying that that compares very favourably to any traditional high school…that is an excellent performance! That must be considered probably one of the best, if not the best among the non-traditional high schools” said Hines. Despite all the aforesaid virtues of incremental improvements taking place over the years at the Mona High School, there are factors that continue to stagger the overall progress of the school. Rohan Hines sites a lack of resources as one such factor. “In terms of the human resources, most of the teachers who are here have been around for sometime. They have that know how and technique in terms of how to get across to the students. The human resources is quite good here, you have teachers that are committed, you have teachers who are dedicated and know what they are doing and want success within the school. The teachers here recognize that the non-traditional high schools are not looked at in a very positive way and
therefore…we as the administration make sure that we bring across to teachers that listen, we need to bring our students to another level and we need to prove to ourselves and prove to the others within the society that we can perform just as well as other schools although we not getting the high quality students as the other traditional high schools are getting, but we still have the ability to turn out students who can perform quite well in CSEC.” Hines said. The administration at Mona High pride themselves in ensuring that communication between themselves and teaching staff takes place constantly with the intent to improve the rate of passes and the overall quality of education that is given to students. Hines shared with Education Today that they have staff development seminars twice per year. At these meetings, it helps the teachers to improve their
teaching techniques in the form of workshops showing them a variety of efficient ways in which they can get across to the students. He noted that human resources at the school are of a more than acceptable standard. Hines said “Instead of a teacher centred teaching technique in terms of teaching, we try to make it more student centred where the students can play an active part in the whole process of learning. That is very important…instead of the whole ‘chalk and talk’ mechanism. That doesn’t come across well, especially with students who might not be as motivated, and students who are not academically gifted as some of the other students found in some of the traditional high schools, so we have find a way to get across to them and to make learning interesting for the students.” In direct contrast, there are some issues to be faced with physical
A Section of the Schol Grounds at the Mona High School
“Education is the transmission of civilization.” - Will Durant
Page 9 April 2012
Mona High’s Vision Plaque
resources at the school inclusive of infrastructure. This has been linked to the lack of a ‘strong alumni’ resulting in an insufficient funding in order to make improvements within the school environs, amongst other factors. The school’s budget is dependent heavily on government funding. Consequently, Hines shared that there are niggling troubles with the availability of a number of resources such as projector screens needed to do Microsoft PowerPoint presentations in order to impart knowledge to Mona High students in a creative manner. There are also some issues with a lack of infrastructure. The expansion of the school would ease issues regarding space. A shortage of power outlets in some places, and renovations needed in areas continue to be minor challenges.
“We need expansion in terms of infrastructure, in terms of physical material resources available and so on. I know that we do not have enough resources that each student can take part in whatever activity they are doing.” Hines said. Rather than gaining from the full experience of learning with resources provided to each student, the small amount of resources are made to be shared by students who are forced to form large groups in order to benefit from the lesson. Several students are unenthusiastic about learning as a pool of ‘slow learners’ do not foster a sense of motivation amongst peers. Notwithstanding this, 5th form Mona High student, 18 year-old Shanice Reid makes the best of her high school experience.
“I don’t feel any different, or any challenge or anything; because non-traditional high school, traditional high school they’re all the same and they actually teach the same thing. So for me, if it’s traditional or non-traditional because they are under the same influence, learning the same things, having the same things, so really and truly there is no difference. Mona high school is a place of comfort, where you are ready to learn. Teachers are here, they are willing to help you. There are teachers here that are really qualified, and they are as good as the traditional high school teachers. The students have everything here that they need and they want.” says Reid as she tells Education Today about her enjoyable stay at the school.
5th Form Mona High Student Shanice Reid
“Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 2012 outside of the school can be expensive, he has opted to make use of the extra help being offered by teachers within the school. The accounts given by those on the administrative side, as well as by the student’s account makes Mona High seem just as customary as any other traditional high school across the island. These accounts completely dispel the myth that nontraditional high schools should be broad-brushed and stigmatized as failures.
The intelligence given by the NEI, school 5th Form Mona High Student Daniel Jarrett administrators and students alike suggest that a lack Another 5th form Mona High of resources, flawed teaching student, 15-year-old Daniel Jarrett methods, competency of teachers, shared with Education Today that lack of motivation in students as he anticipates his CSEC themselves, or perhaps even a examinations, he has made the mixture of all these variables is to option to attend extra classes even be blamed for the high incidences as school is still on Easter break. of failure in some non-traditional Acknowledging that extra help high schools. It is interesting to
see that the realm of education in Jamaica, non-traditional high school students are made to seemingly fall through the cracks as these schools are known to be distinguished from their traditional counterparts because of the lack of resources within school environs. Notwithstanding this however, there are some non-traditional high schools such as the Mona High School, that are slowly managing to shake of the stigma that nontraditional is synonymous with failure, doom and gloom. Some of the students and teachers are please with their situation. While a number of educational practitioners are noted to be increasingly uninspired because of the hardly gratifying monetary rewards, low performing demotivated students, and scarce resources, there are several more who are unyieldingly motivated to see their students achieve. The concept of a non-traditional high school appears to be unique to our Caribbean territory due to historical happenings. On the world scene, North American public schools are more or less standardized to have a basic quota of absolutely necessary learning tools and resources to the benefit of students. If the government here adapts some aspects of the North American outfitting of schools, perhaps we can seek to fix a few of the issues sited. * Names changed upon request.
“Education should bring to light the ideal of the individual.” - J.P Richter
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Bjorn Burke was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica in May 1991. Bjorn started out his tennis career from the tender age of 10 on the Mona Preparatory School. He moved on to the prestigious Wolmer’s Boys School where he graduated with a mix of seven Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) subjects in 2007. He then went on to the 6th form program at Wolmer’s and scored passes in all four Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) by the end of 2009. His lifelong ambition was to become a media practitioner. Bjorn was accepted to the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) to pursue a bachelor of arts in Media and Communication. Currently, Bjorn is a third-year student en route to a career in journalism.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” - Aristotle
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