Seeking The Best With God as Guide and a Runny Nose

 One of the all time great Jamaican proverbs is:  “if yuh want good, yuh nose haffi run”. Its meaning is along the same lines of: “the early bird catches the worm” – hard work is always rewarded. Such a phrase is typically reserved though for the great education conversation – those moments when a child seems to not be applying themselves as readily to their educational pursuits in a manner that is pleasing to the parents.

So as this phrase gets beaten into the heads of many kids ad nauseum, we may actually not be giving kids what they really need to be successful people – not just education hungry sponges.

The education system I was raised in was built from the British model. Basically competition is the order of the day. Educational goals and markers were structured in such as way that as a student, it felt like I was always competing with other kids in the class, particularly the smart ones. Want another source of pressure to do well: I was raised in a household where the only other HS male got a scholarship based on his CXC exam results (http://cxc.org/about-us/about-council)[1]. The 411 on that system is: you go to school from Kindergarten to 6th grade. At the end of the 6th grade you take a placement test to go to High School called GSAT (http://caribbeanexams.com/gsat.htm)[2]. In High School, one would spend 7th-11th grade working towards the diploma. At 16 you take your CXC exams to be eligible for your HS diploma (similar to regions here in New York or FCAT in Florida). Once you have your HS diploma, you can take 2 more years of precollege course and then at 18 apply for college. So potentially HS would be 5-7 years long, with 5 being the minimum.

 In a system where education is not free, there is tremendous pressure for kids to be successful – especially if they are from working class or poor socioeconomic backgrounds. Parents have pay for tuition every semester, and if the kid needed summer school, that was not free either. There were both private schools and public schools at the Kindergarten to 6th grade level, with the private schools charging more per semester than what it cost to do a semester in college! Yet the private schools had waiting lists to get into the very elite ones.

 When kids do well, it allows them to be in a position to become successful adults who are able to support their families – the ones they create and their ones of origin. It was one of those unwritten reasons why dropping out of school was not cool at all when I was coming up. I can remember having my folks throw the threat of what could happen to me if I dropped out of school in my face and I was scared as hell. Granted, I was a good enough students but that was the tactic to keep me in line. I can think of friends who dropped out and it was like they were never seen or heard from again.

 So, my high school’s motto is in Latin and translates as: “With God as Guide, we seek the best”. It was really more like “With God as guide and parents breathing down my neck I NEED to be the Best”. I can remember fondly when my CXC grades came out at how embarrassed yet proud of my grades I was. I did well, but had friends who got scholarships. I never escaped the shadow of the scholarship winner in the house either, but I was proud because I did fairly well.

Why bring all this up? Well, people in the Jamaican educational system have realized that it is not about just getting the best grades. Students should now be put in a situation where they are retaining information better and not prepping just for the exams – the same issue students face here in the US, especially when it comes to the SAT exam. There is an ongoing council of principals and respected educational officials making ongoing recommendations to address the issue of “swatting to pass tests” – and with kids’ futures being serious investments, the stakes are higher now more than ever given the global economic climate (see what the kids in Japan have to face when it comes to testing).

 Another serious issue with the system is that it is geared through competition to create the best possible candidates for high skills jobs such as lawyers, doctors, etc. When people drop out of the system, it is hard to regain entry if your education allows you to earn a certain amount and financing going back to school is so challenging. Some people take the tack of forgoing college education because they see how hard it is for college graduates to gain employment. The catch 22 here is lethal in the face of competing for resources needed to make a better life and be productive in society.

 So if we really tout “education as the key to success” then why are we still teaching kids how to get the best grades to land a job, but not the skills and knowledge needed to stay employed? What are you really telling college students who have the grades to get noticed but there are no jobs to hire them? It’s hard to seek and be the best when the deck is so stacked against you.


[1] Before the CXC exams, there was the British O and A level exams. O Levels was for the standard 5 years for the HS diploma, A-Levels applied to the 2 pre-college years.

[2]When I took the placement exam it was called the Common Entrance exam. It became GSAT when I was in 8th or 9th grade of HS

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