Antigua's Minister of Education, Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro, has proposed a plan to implement Universal Education by 2013. This new policy stipulates that placement of students into secondary schools be determined by geographical location of residence, regardless of test scores.
Currently, students are allowed to declare three schools of choice during registration for the Common Entrance Exam. The top 100 students are placed in one of their choices. All other students are placed in high schools depending on geographical location of residence. Dr. Quinn-Leandro reasons that this new policy ensures that schools are more diverse, by facilitating a more equal distribution of talents among students. In addition, such a move ensures that schools are provided with equal resources. Education for all is a great initiative; however, at the core of Dr. Quinn-Leandro's policies is building new structures and structural expansion, rather than overhaul of the educational system and educators.
First, the establishment of the National Technical Training Center (NTTC), which, according to the government's website was opened to, "cater for students who can no longer continue within the public and private primary school systems, due to difficulties they experience negotiating final examinations."' Students who did not perform according to standards on the Common Entrance Examination and the Junior Secondary Examination will be given "another opportunity at receiving an education"', by being funneled into this school. The idea of this institution would make sense if the educational system in Antigua operated up to par. This isn't a step to address a failing educational system. It is actually a slap in the face and a quick fix that places students down the path of mediocrity.
As of August 26, 2011, over two hundred students were registered for this institution, which speaks to the fact that the system failed the students. If these students were unable to perform at the required standard on these tests, it means that they may have fallen through the cracks at the elementary and early primary school level. The issues this new institution was established to address should have been addressed before standardized testing occurred. Moreover, if these issues were addressed and corrected prior to testing, there would be no need for such an institution.
Second, the expansion of the St. Mary's Secondary School and the Glanvilles Secondary School, and the opening of the Irene B. Williams Secondary School, does not automatically give these students equal opportunity. A new structure and an added wing does not make for a first class school, and certainly does not mean students receive a first class education. At the St. Mary's dedication, the Minister stated that, "The privileges, facilities, human and material resources afforded you are the same afforded all other secondary schools across this nation. We encourage you to believe that you are the best and to build a good, solid reputation for your school." At the dedication of the wing at the Glanvilles Secondary School, she also emphasized that students have the same resources afforded at any high school in Antigua, and should make Glanvilles Secondary a school of choice. At the Irene B. Williams dedication, Dr. Quinn-Leandro's sidekick and Senior Education Officer Clare Browne noted that, "A good school is about how well resources provided are used."' Unfortunately, all schools in Antigua are not equally resourced, and without a plan to achieve this goal, will never be.
New wings and new structures might give the impression of equality, but reality dictates otherwise, as far as education on the island is concerned. In addition, changing the way seats are filled doesn't ensure that under-resourced schools will suddenly be problem free. Every Antiguan knows that Antigua Grammar School, Antigua Girls High School and Princess Margaret School, are better funded, have better resources, obtain more qualified teachers, and provide a better environment conducive to learning compared to other public schools. Dr. Quinn-Leandro further states that, "Even though you maintain your elite schools for children who are cr’åme de le cr’åme, you still want to be able to place talent to build those schools that are in the country districts. So you have a top student going to any secondary school."' Since students will no longer be allowed to choose their preferred school, will students with exceptional scores be automatically funneled into these "elite"' schools regardless of geography, or will these schools only cater to the cr’åme de le cr’åme located in the vicinity of these "elite"' schools?
Moving towards universal education, distributing resources equally, and making schools more diverse are great intentions but are also broad general goals. Overhauling any educational system requires a vision, a mission, and specific objectives. Moreover, a system of accountability and method of evaluation must be factored into the plan, and the next person taking office must be able to follow the process of implementation and progression. Dr. Jacqui Quinn-Leandro's initiative sounds good and looks good because it gives the appearance that something is being done. However, if the plan is not being implemented correctly, it becomes an additional burden. Clearly, it creates a financial burden because buildings require money. It is reported that work on the Irene B. Williams School was an expense of approximately $850,000! I'm sure this money could have been distributed among the eleven public secondary schools in order to make them more equally resourced, if this is the Minister's main goal.
http://www.caribarena.com/antigua/education/98346-new-wing-opened-at-st-marys-secondary.html -- St. Mary's Secondary School Opens
http://www.antiguaobserver.com/?p=64085 -- Irene B. Williams Secondary School Opens
http://www.caribarena.com/antigua/education/98309-glanvilles-secondary-gets-new-wing-.html -- New Wing at Glanvilles Secondary School
http://www.ab.gov.ag/gov_v4/article_details.php?id=1970&category=38 -- New Presecondary School Opens
http://www.antiguaobserver.com/?p=65901 -Eliminating Choice of Schools
Photo Credit To Antigua & Barbuda Mission
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Ebonie-March’© Jones is a freelance contributor to MNI Alive