Letters & Opinion

Educational Reform: How to Change the Culture of Education (Part 3)

Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E
By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E

I have already defined culture as a way of life of a group of people, an institution, a community; the behaviour, beliefs, values they accept generally, and that they passed along by communication and imitation, from one generation to the next.

Indeed, I also stressed that educational reform can be accomplished by changing the culture of a group, community or society.

Today, we are going to take a look at change within the education system itself.

The Government of St. Lucia, through the Ministry of Education, has started the process of review and revision of the St. Lucia Education Act and Regulations, which has been long overdue.

Let me hasten to point out that community education and development begin with people, which is in keeping with the mantra of the St. Lucia Government of “Putting People First”.

While education reform in our world is moving at a terrific pace, the St. Lucia Education System was lagging behind, by far. The Education Act had not been reviewed for close to three decades and the teaching Service Regulations, for many more years than that.

Mrs. Majorie Brathwaite, an outstanding education Administrator in our education system had attempted a revision of the Teaching Regulation several years ago. However, there seemed to have been some ‘standing blocs’ which stalled the eventual publication of the document.

I was drafted into the review and revision committee that worked tirelessly on the regulations that, sadly, never saw the ‘light of day’.

Now what do I mean by education reform? Education reform comprises any planned changes in the way a school or school system functions, from teaching methodologies to administrative processes.

And the regulations are the rules designed to govern the methodologies and lead the processes within the education act.

Indeed, before we take a close look at the proposed changes to the Education Act, it is important to know how much our government spends on education.

The estimated expenditure for the fiscal year 2023 to 2024 is $1.857 billion dollars. And what does the government gets in return for that spending? At least, not what members expect!

Now let us look at some areas of the Education Act which will soon be passed in lower and upper houses pf parliament.

I wish to begin with PART 4, Division 1, Section 92. That section deals with Compulsory School Attendance.

That section has me “dancing a Jig”. The rate of absenteeism in our schools is extremely high. If we say that students should be engaged in tasks during specific times, and they are not there to perform the tasks, then it is a waste of very precious time and state money.

I am aware that School Attendance Officers were appointed several years ago, but that didn’t help to maintain a healthy school attendance.

Now this bill speaks to the appointment of Inspectors of schools. It is my hope that the inspectors would rigidly monitor school attendance.

Indeed, the new Education Bill emphasizes Valid excuse for absence. I have several grandchildren attending school in the United States, and that education system is rigid on school attendance. An excuse must be sent to the school when students are unable to attend for valid reasons. If the student has seen a medical doctor, then a medical certificate must be presented to the school to support absence from school.

Section 94 speaks to the failure of parents to enforce attendance. That is to say that the Act is ready to deal with parents who allow their children to stay at home without valid reasons.

Section 98 of the Act speaks to: Prohibition against employment of child. It is very clear that children of school age must be at school, not employed. The money which they receive from doing work, is an incentive to stay away from school. Many children of school age are employed in this country. The Act is intended to stop the practice.

Now section 100 speaks to loitering at bar. I would like the Bill to go further to prohibit parents from sending children to buy liquor at refreshment houses or bars. That situation occurs very regularly in St. Lucia.

The Education Act puts the onus on parents to get many things done in our education system. However, I am acutely aware that single parents in particular, come under serious stress having to discipline their children. And I am very happy that section 163 speaks to Behavioural Support.

Indeed, our children or students and parents need support to help change many negative behaviours which would eventually affect the home, the school and the society in which they live.

Section 170 speaks to: Powers of Search and Seizure. One might be surprised to know the amount and variety of weapons students take to schools in St. Lucia. I am convinced that the school must have the power to search and seize those weapons. This is a very positive section.

Section 172 speaks to: Obligation to report to police. I am aware that many parents do not want schools to report criminal matters to the police when their children have ‘crossed the line’. But this is the right way to go. The Act makes it obligatory for schools to report criminal matters to the police.

The Act speaks to loitering on school premises. Brazen drug pushers find their way on school premises to push their trade. Therefore, that section is indeed very welcoming.

Section 200 speaks to: Prohibition of sale of alcohol, tobacco, cigarette. Indeed, schools should be a no alcohol, tobacco and cigarette zone.

In closing, I wish to indicate that government is going in the right direction with the overhaul of the St. Lucia Education system. To be continued…

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