Letters & Opinion

Parallel Worlds – Part 1: Education

Image of David Prescod
By David Prescod

At least 50% of the children leaving our primary schools cannot read, write or do Arithmetic. Why are they being sent onto Secondary School…….?

RECENTLY, researchers in physics were finally able to prove that gravity waves existed. While widely acclaimed, this achievement means little if anything to most of us, our connection with gravity being strictly concerned with what happens after we step on that banana skin.

Physicists are also concerned with another matter that should be of greater interest to us, and that is the existence of parallel worlds. This is serious business, and as usual, scientists encounter the usual difficulty of testing their theories. A visit to Saint Lucia might be in order for these scientists though, as evidence of these parallel worlds is widespread here.

One of the most powerful examples of our parallel existence has to be in our treatment of issues confronting our education system. Education is a fundamental aspect of the development of citizens who have pride in themselves and in their country, but the news that we have been receiving recently does not reflect this.

In January this year, the Minister of Education announced that his Ministry would henceforth place a greater focus on the expansion and provision of special needs education and of technical vocational education and training. He also reminded us that his Ministry had, in October of last year, launched a new Education Sector Development Plan that focussed on quality education from early childhood to tertiary level.

Four weeks after this announcement we were told that some 3,800 laptops donated by the Taiwanese government had arrived in Saint Lucia for distribution to Form 3 secondary school students. But then within a few days of that announcement, we heard from the Deputy Chairman of Invest St. Lucia during a television interview that over 60% of the secondary school population was graduating without a secondary education.

Whether precisely 60% or not, that level is outrageous. It however has to be close to the truth, as we know from media reports that 45% of students taking the Mathematics exam failed in 2015. The figure for English was only slightly better, with 35% failing. To be added to that are students who are judged incapable of passing the exams and so are not registered for them. This failure rate is cause for concern, although the results are not new.

According to Dr. Didacus Jules, writing in the Caribbean Examiner of October 2010 and advising on regional performance: “In the 2009 CSEC examinations, only 21% of the candidates sitting received acceptable grades in five or more subjects; 52% of them either did not pass any subjects or received acceptable grades in one subject only”. These are percentages of those sitting the exams, not the percentages of all students in Form 5.

Shortly after hearing the figures of failure from the Invest St. Lucia Deputy Chairman we heard of the distribution ceremony of the newly acquired laptops to secondary school students, promoted as being in fulfilment of campaign promises and the Government’s desire to ensure that every child has a laptop. It would seem that the information from the Ministry of Education and Invest Saint Lucia is either not available to the political directorate, or is lost in translation.

At least 50% of our secondary school children cannot read or write, neither can they do Arithmetic. They’re not suddenly failing at CSEC because they didn’t have laptops in Form 3. Our education system is failing half of our children as they move from kindergarten to primary to secondary school. This is a national crisis, but our government ignores it and chooses instead to celebrate the handing out of laptops at the secondary level. The children can’t read or write, what are they supposed to do with these laptops?

Ten years after the establishment of Universal Secondary Education we have confirmation that the concept is not working, that more than 50% of the students leaving these secondary schools do not have a secondary education, cannot read and write, and that an even higher percentage are not suitable for engagement in the work force. Having spent huge sums on constructing new schools, we also now find that there are not sufficient students to fill them.

Yet, this is what the Prime Minister had to say at the re-naming ceremony of the Marigot Secondary School as reported in NATIONWIDE of March 5, 2016. Referring to Universal Secondary Education (– USE) he said:

“– USE as it was dubbed was an important achievement of the Labour Party Administration I led in 2006. And many at the time and perhaps some even now, believe that — USE should not have been pursued. It was an incredibly myopic and elitist view. But it is the reality. Some people do not believe in the equity of education. They believe that there should exist an uneducated class upon which to construct an economy to benefit from low wages”.

Unfortunately, our failure to educate some 50% of our children is lost in the politics, the irony being that the system is producing just that class of uneducated persons that the Prime Minister implied that he wished to prevent.

Proud of his government’s legacy, our Prime Minister ignores its results, admonishes us, and leaves little room for hope that any effort will be expended on addressing the issues confronting our educational system. In case we missed the inference, at least 50% of the children leaving our primary schools cannot read, write, or do arithmetic. Why are these children being sent on to secondary school, and how do we propose to address this failure at the primary level? This failure statistic may also be gleaned from the “Education for All 2015 National Review Report: St. Lucia” produced by the Ministry of Education.

We may live in parallel worlds, but the other theory that physicists are considering is that these parallel worlds are also constantly interacting. And if nothing else, our likely interaction with the large and growing number of unemployed and unemployable young persons should drive us to act. They have been failed by our education system, have no hope, little future, and they are angry.

Handing out laptops to secondary school children who need remedial help in the basics of english and mathematics may sound progressive, but it only contributes to the problem, as this diverts attention from the reforms needed at all levels, and from teacher training.

While this conclusion may seem obvious, the OECD 2015 study entitled “Students, Computers and Learning – Making the Connection” confirms it. According to the Director:

“The results also show no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education.
And perhaps the most disappointing finding of the report is that technology is of little help in bridging the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Put simply, ensuring that every child attains a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services”.

And later: “To deliver on the promises technology holds, countries will need a convincing strategy to build teachers’ capacity”.

With insight, Dr. Jules offers the same advice on the need for teacher training in his referenced 2010 article, also highlighting then the need for reform from early childhood development through to secondary education. What has happened with the Ministry of Education’s “Sector Development Plan” which has just this focus?

Educating our young people is essential to the building of national pride, and we have long been made aware of the issues that confront our education system. Rather than addressing them, we choose instead to hand out glitzy band-aids to plaster what is now a chronic national sore.

Our youth, however, deserve more.
Next week, Parallel Worlds Part II: Crime


  1. Have we been watching news lately. Many talk show hosts globally use bad language and make up words when they speak and somehow think “that makes them cool” because they now are part of the “in crowd.
    Bear in mind that these are society highly educated individuals with master degrees or better.
    Case in point. The kids think that these people are cool. So if these individuals are cool with not caring, why should them.
    So they place little effort in trying to excel academically.
    Everyone seem to be using their cell phone making up words or simply don”t care about proper words and their usage while communicating. Adults included. Actually we adults reinforce that pattern of behavior by creating jargons and words never previously known.
    Somehow it has led the kids into believing that proper education is not a requirement as their role models reassure them of that belief by the way we talk or communicate. These are the little things that when go unchecked or un-noticed grow and become our problems of tomorrow.
    Most of the problems of the children of today, including their poor performances in school, are the result of our failures as parents, role models and great leaders.
    They have little to aspire to. Especially when we the adults are constantly lowering the standards by which we live.
    Their lives, interest, decisions are the poor fruits of our labor, we the adults.

    1. There has always been formal and informal language. However, when we fail to recognize that each one has a place and time, we run the risk of rushing back to the “Tower of Babel” at a very fast clip.

  2. This Voice article does not deal with what basically, yes, at the most basic level, is ailing this poor country of ours. The problem is our ENTIRE education system.

    IT IS INSTITUTIONAL MISALIGNMENT. What goes into our system, what the processes are, and who and what comes out of it. That is what makes our system, our system. Or, is it ‘our’ system or somebody else’s system. Reread and think. Think. Think about this for a moment. I challenge you to answer this question honestly.

    Are Saint Lucians really in charge of their future? Clearly, should we take greater control of our future or not leave this weighty decision to the discretion to comfortable administrators and unknown bureaucrats in Barbados? They are not voted to make or take all this weighty decision.

    What we have done and miserably been finding increasingly acceptable is this UNACCEPTABLE gross abdication of our national responsibility.

    How can any Saint Lucian NATIONAL government ever convince any Saint Lucian who is aware, in this day and age, that CXC must remain the MAIN gate-keeper of our road to NATIONAL growth, now and in the future.

    Are we SUPPOSED TO COMPETE GLOBALLY? Then, if so, where the is the necessary and related differentiation? Do you see any?

    See the uncomfortable answers all around us. Our youth go largely unemployed, are frustrated, miseducated and are being educated to be largely fit to be sellers of narcotics and recruits for our clever manipulative, and mind-numbing political shysters. They offer them STEP.

    Education should be a socializing process to help us compete GLOBALLY. Yes?

    Well, look at the results of our system: brutal cutlass mayhem, murders, and suicides. Is that the kind of socialization that we desire coming out of SINT LUCIA’S education system?

    Should we not therefore, make a deep HONEST introspection of what is happening to us, and adopt serious INNOVATIVE recommendations to CHANGE DIRECTION QUICKLY, and at last, get value for money spent during the past 36 annual budget expenditures made on the youth? SERIOUSLY, is it not time to wipe out the UGLY results that we have been seeing, and ARE still getting?And the fault lies not just in childhood educationt.

    Throughout OUR ENTIRE SYSTEM, ‘garbage in’ (from the very top to the bottom) is ‘garbage out’.

    Rhetorically, just raving about the number of the human equivalent of chicken pens built and maintained, is awkward and embarrassing stupidity coming from past, present and future ministers and governments. The quickly-spent $500 in an climate of economic depression and the upgraded hand-held toy telephones called laptops, demonstrate the misguidance of those who continue to lose their way, and who cannot see the forest for the trees.

  3. It is a joy reading an article where thoughtful thinking and effort was put into it.
    It is also very aspiring when members of the public offer meaningful critic and their views on these articles.
    Congratulations on both sides, to the, Me Prescod and the public citizen Mr or Miss Alexander.
    Thank you both for your great thoughts and inputs.

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