No Wonder Students Are Failing In School

By Rogan Smith |
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There’s a simple saying that goes, you only get out what you put in. If we’re speaking biblically, one might say, you reap what you sow.

The latest Bahamas Junior Certificate (BJC) and Bahamas General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) math, English and science exam results – as disappointing as they were – were not shocking. At least not to me, and quite frankly, I’m over pretending that I’m startled by these embarrassing grades. I’m sure you are, too. 

With both exams, the number of students who attained at least a ‘C’ in these subjects decreased when compared to 2018.  

Over the summer, Education Minister Jeffrey Lloyd noted that only 46 per cent of students who leave high school qualify for a diploma. The government says it’s committed to getting an 85 per cent graduate rate by 2030 – a huge task judging by these latest results. 

Attaining that graduate rate is going to require some serious changes. There are many factors contributing to these poor results, yet we continue to have high expectations. 

How can we expect any improvement when students are forced to put up with poor conditions, overcrowded classrooms and teachers stretched to their limits? The conditions are enough to make anyone unmotivated.

Poor Conditions

The ministry has not created a healthy, sanitary and visually pleasing environment where people want to go to learn or teach. 

Public school students are forced to learn in some of the most depressing environments I have ever seen. The school’s grounds do not foster learning and many resemble a scaled-down prison rather than learning institutions. 

Minister Lloyd has been quite candid when discussing the conditions that many of the students have to endure on a daily basis like hot classrooms and non-functioning restrooms. 

I have relatives who attend public schools and they often talk about the lack of resources at their schools, and not just educational resources, but basic resources, like the lack of hand soap for students to wash their hands or toilet paper in the bathrooms. They have to bring those items to school or not use the facilities, which oftentimes are in deplorable conditions anyway. 

That is incredibly unhygienic. Surely such an environment also takes a toll on the educators and administrators who are underpaid, overworked, overlooked and unappreciated. 

Several years ago, I interviewed Anatol Rodgers Principal, Harcourt McCoy, who highlighted some the problems plaguing the public school system. 

He noted that for many of the students, English is their second language, which creates a teaching barrier. Many of the students, he said, had a hard time focusing in school because they didn’t get the proper support from home. 

He added that the public school system was mandated to absorb everyone whether they are an ‘A’ student or on the lower end of the spectrum. This is unlike the private school system, which could exclude students by simply administering entrance examinations. 

We’re Still Teaching Everyone The Same Way

Another problem we face is with the curriculum and the teaching methods. We don’t all speak the same, we don’t all have the same backgrounds and we don’t learn the same. How can we prescribe the same way of teaching to different children? 

I often hear critics say that if a student isn’t book smart, he or she might fare better working with his or her hands. Why are they always relegated to that? We put students in these rigid silos. It’s unfair. Sometimes, it just takes the right teacher to get through to the student. 

Sometimes, the problem isn’t even the student. It’s the teacher. Some teachers know the work, but they have no clue how to impart the knowledge. If they cannot break things down for a third grader, then perhaps they shouldn’t be teaching third graders. 

There are also teachers in the system who are failing these students because they are teaching them incorrect things. I cannot begin to tell you how many times students have told me that their teacher taught them something that, upon investigation, I found to be completely inaccurate. I looked over someone’s English homework and the teacher marked several things wrong that were actually correct. She also wrote a note that had grammatical errors in them. Pitiful. 

The Ministry of Education needs greater oversight when it comes to teachers who continue to produce failing students. 

Teachers also need constant training. I wouldn’t go to a dentist who is not keeping up on the latest advancements in dentistry. So, why would I want my child taught by a teacher whose last time in the classroom was when she was teaching. Those who are unwilling to upgrade their skills need to be weeded out or forever kept at the bottom of the barrel.

There are bright spots in the education system, and their contributions should not be ignored or downplayed. But, we are going to need more educated teachers to enter the fold – ones who are truly passionate about this great role they have. 

Parents Need To Stop Being Lazy

The government and the teachers are not solely to blame. Parents have ridiculous and laughable expectations of high results when they are not making the investment in their children. 

Understandably, some of the parents are the products of a public education and may not know how to help when it comes to homework and prepping for tests. But, you know what they can do? They can ensure that their children are doing their homework. Some parents don’t even know their children’s teachers because they have never attended a single PTA meeting. I know some involved parents who make it a priority to get their children’s teacher’s cell number and they send WhatsApp messages to them for regular updates. 

Parents must also take away their children’s privileges when they fail. No failing child should be getting the latest anything when they are not performing. 

Show Them What’s Out There 

I used to get into debates with a friend of mine who attended public school. I graduated from St. Anne’s, a local private school and she would always talk about how good I had it. 

During one of our more spirited debates, she asked me how I learned about the different colleges. I told her that our guidance counsellor made sure that we were all aware of the opportunities and tried to match us with schools she thought we would enjoy and experience great success. She told me her high school never did that – that the students weren’t aware of what lied ahead of them after graduation. She’s right. Many of these students don’t know what life has to offer. They were in school with their eyes on two goals: to get out and get a job. 

There are talented, motivated kids in the system. We just need to get the ones who aren’t on track. Until then, we cannot expect to get out what we don’t put in. 

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