Education: do we risk a lost generation?

Though most front-line educators and managers will agree that, while there have been some good take-aways from the Reform, it hardly provides the backbone of a sustainable education system adapted to our context

There have been too many harrowing occurrences involving our youngsters of school-going age, within or outside school compounds, or those who have barely emerged from the formal education structures, public or private, for society not to refuse any form of complacency regarding a very disturbing trend. Alarm bells may have received some cursory attention in the past but, undoubtedly, it is worrisome that the expressions of palpable concern among education professionals, sociologists and psychologists on the front-line have intensified over the past few years without an evidential, coordinated, appropriate scale-up of the response to those unsettling trends.

It is perhaps the natural inclination of the education establishment to prefer officialese that nothing unduly worrying or beyond the purview of existing management structures, processes and manuals are happening inside our schools and colleges. It is after all a “nothing alarming” spin-line that dovetailed with the statements of Ministers Gayan and Dookhun since 2015. The former was busy dismantling methadone substitution therapies while dismissive of front-line reports of growing drug-related problems nationwide, and the latter might have been more focused on the numerous challenges related to the implementation of the much-vaunted Nine-Year Schooling reform.

Beyond referring concerned educators and media to School Management manuals, there was little evidence of a real intent and urgency to help front-line school administrators and educators grapple with rampant indiscipline, rowdiness, bullying, racketeering, violence and parental intrusions, and the blistering reported rise in consumption of unwanted substances within school premises or by school-age youngsters.

It is of course in nobody’s contention that matters have gone largely out of control, that all educators and headmasters or rectors are bewildered and stressed out, that all children are misbehaving or that all parents have relinquished their authority. Nor is it that all schools are affected to the same degree or again that the school system is somehow to blame for failings, violence and drug consumption phenomena that may have been infiltrating society for some time now. But it cannot be politically expedient to look elsewhere when the fire is still in its burgeoning stages and may hold hope of being successfully reined in.

It took the rector of one of our private star schools to bravely raise a despairing cry of his inordinate sense of helplessness at the proliferation of drug consumption in St Esprit RCA, (CSE). It is sadly only another wake-up call, albeit this time a powerful one, for the parent Ministry, the PSSA and associated management bodies to get on their bikes, as the saying goes.

The Rector hails from a respected private sector institution, operating under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Authority, and has received, in that moment of public anguish, the full support of the Diocese, the parents, several prominent voices and the unions representing both private and public educators and managers. The country must commend that Rector, for had any public college Rector dared express himself or herself publicly on the pernicious deterioration happening in one of our state schools and colleges, one can guess the possible disciplinary reaction.

Yet, despite the straitjacket, a quick glance over media titles since 2015 will amply confirm that attention has been repeatedly drawn to bullying, indiscipline, violence and drug infestation affecting our school-age kids, in or outside school premises.

The Rector, the CSE and the Roman Catholic Education Authority (RCEA) – or Service Diocésain de l’Éducation Catholique (SeDEC) as known today – must also be commended for taking the lead at their level to initiate plans for a round-table by year-end of all managers of catholic education colleges, police and other concerned agents, with a view to draft a concerted Plan of Action and start rolling out its implementation. Following such a public appeal and cry for help, nothing less would have been expected from such quarters. Indeed, it sadly and poignantly begs the question whether the matter should not have been a national imperative for the parent Ministry of Education in association with other Ministries, Departments, NGOs and concerned voices.

Let us remind ourselves that, excluding parastatals, the Ministry of Education has a sizeable annual budget of around Rs 19 billion, of which some 75% go to the primary and secondary sectors, a healthy and welcome situation but one which cannot allow complacency, buck-passing, political correctness or business as usual from the higher directorates that oversee our children’s safe development, stimulate their growth potential and maximise their readiness, skills and aptitudes to enjoy a productive life in society.

If the Minister of Education can be commended for having come out bravely with a proposed radical re-engineering of our education system through the Nine-Year Schooling Reform program, considerable resources of IVTB House and Education affiliate structures seem to have been consumed in its planning and implementation over the past three years. Energies, resources and attention that may have been missing on other critical fronts.

And though most front-line educators and managers will agree that, while there have been some good take-aways from the Reform, it hardly provides the backbone of a sustainable education system adapted to our context. More competition, more examinations, more elitism, more private tuition over longer age-periods, more star schools, now at both regional and national Academy levels, and even less focus on alternatives for the less academically endowed, are not the sort of outcome Education establishment can be happy with. Nor may it be the sort of direction for a fairer and more equitable society. Meantime, whatever the deliverables of the Reform, let’s hope the Ministry and its affiliate bodies get their combined energies together on far more dramatic drifts that have been, by and large, ignored, spinned aside or swept under the carpet.

* Published in print edition on 5 October 2018

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