A strong defence of the Universal Secondary Education thrust of the governing Dominica Labour Party administration, by Chief Education Officer Steve Hyacinth.
The universal education thrust has its share of critics, some of whom suggest that the Ministry of Education should revert to what was known as the Junior Seondary Progamme, done in conjunction at the time with the Common Entrance Examination which the current Grade 6 National Assessment has replaced.
Concern has been expressed in the media and elsewhere, that under the current programme which provides secondary space for all the students who sit that exam, even students who perform poorly are given the benefit of a secondary education they may not be equipped to take advantage of.
Hyacinth has explained that currently, there are provisions for student s who received failing grades in the exam to repeat in Grade 6, following consultation with their parents and the school they attend.
The Chief Education Officer was asked whether the less than average students end up losing their way in the secondary education system.
“The child has to believe in himself or herself, and at the (new) school the conditions there have to be conducive to learning,” Hyacinth said in response while also indicating that parents have to try to motivate their children to embrace the learning process.
What the education system is doing directly to address the problem was not clearly defined by the leading education official’s response however, although he ventured to give his “frank” opinion.
“This country could not continue with what used to be the common entrance examination, where 30 students out of a cohort would enter in secondary school. Within the world order today, we had to ensure that every child had that opportunity at his disposal,” the chief education officer explained.
According to him the former common entrance exam was a case of “selecting the cream of the crop”.
“Some people could even refer to that as being elitist,” the education official said.
He also made reference to the three-year Junior Secondary Programme that some critics of Universal Secondary Education suggest should be re-instated.
However Hyacinth says while some of the students of that programme performed well and were able to get into third form in secondary school, the numbers the schools were able to accommodate were just not substantial enough to make the programme viable.
“So only a few students after three years in the Junior Secondary Programme got into the third form of the secondary school and did well – we’ve said that is not a fair system for students who did not have the opportunity to move in through the common entrance examination,” Hyacinth contends.
“Universal Secondary Education is the way forward to ensure that every child has that opportunity to move on,” he insists.
He also made reference to “a constant rise in the performance of students” under the current system.
“We are not saying that every child is going to get ten subjects – I firmly believe that every human being, every child has something to offer humanity. And so secondary education does not only focus on maths, science, social studies which are important. We have to look at the technical aspects of this development,” he said.
“For me, Universal Secondary Education is a must, for me Universal Secondary Education is working because every child has an opportunity and we cannot, we should never, deny any the opportunity to go through a system of education that deals with his aptitude, his ability, his skills and his potential,” the chief education officer concluded.
The political directorate too, is apparently satisfied that the system is working.
“It is quite clear that since 2005 we have made tremendous gains, as far as access is concerned we stand by our policy of universal secondary education. We believe that every child must be given an opportunity to access quality education,” Education Minister Peter St Jean said.
He conceded however that there was likely to be “a small percentage of the children who write the national assessment examinations who may not be adequately prepared to enter secondary school”.
According to the education minister, these students have the option of repeating Grade 6 at their primary school in an attempt to be better prepared the following year.
“We recognize that there are tremendous challenges with universal secondary education, it is not a perfect system, no system is 100 per cent full proof. However my ministry is working constantly to ensure that we provide the best for every Dominican child”.
St Jean said having delivered on access, the government was now working “on the quality that we deliver.”
He said his ministry would soon be piloting a new programme – the Caribbean Vocational Qalifications Act for secondary schools.
That programme is expected to focus on skills development.