Previously we looked at the Universal Secondary Education (USE) system, its advantages and disadvantages, and how it has impacted education in the country. To strike a balance, I visited a school with a different, relatively new education system based on the Canadian system which is ranked third in the world: The International School Saint Lucia. Following is an interview with Principal Sharon Harrietha about the island’s only school of this type.
STAR: How did ISSL come about?
SH: The International School Saint Lucia was opened in 2006 under the direction of five women who believed that students should be able to attain a different kind of education right here in Saint Lucia. The school’s mission is to provide a recognized education program of high standards in a caring community. Our vision is to be the premier school in the Caribbean and our motto is: “Leadership, Diversity, Unity and Excellence.” Once they graduate, students can go to any college or university in the world to study any program. ISSL’s New Brunswick High School Diploma is recognized worldwide.
STAR: What is the Canadian or New Brunswick education system?
SH: The guidelines are set out by a curriculum determined by the Ministry of Education in Canada. We are accredited by the Canadian education system and have compulsory courses as well as many different electives. ISSL is a semester system school. The first semester begins in September and ends in January when we have exams, then we start again in February until Mid-June, and the students are tested again at that time.
STAR: How does the curriculum differ from Saint Lucia’s?
SH: We teach the Ontario curriculum from Grades 2 to 10. For the Grade 11 and 12 program we follow the New Brunswick Ministry of Education curriculum by providing the same online services that Canada offers. We offer a full range of subjects including Social Sciences, History, Economics, Accounting, Computers, Maths, Sciences, Business courses, English and the Arts. We try to reach every student and their interests to open doors for their future. We have graduates in different parts of Canada, USA, England, Ireland and the West Indies.
Our students also have to do 40 hours of voluntary community service in order to graduate, because we believe in giving back to the community. All of our teachers have university degrees with at least 70% having continued their education to receive a teaching degree called a Bachelor of Education. In order to continue to be accredited, we have to follow the standards set out by New Brunswick.
STAR: Can Saint Lucian students easily move from the Caribbean curriculum to ISSL?
SH: Students who have already written their CXC exams are eligible to attend the International School. Most of the students who are with us have to do a two year Grade 11 and 12 program, but you may only have to spend about a year and a half at ISSL depending on how well you did on your CXCs. Students want to receive the New Brunswick diploma so that they are eligible to attend any university or college.
In Grade 10, we offer a Careers course. Our guidance counselor teaches the course and has each student do an interest survey,to discover their likes and dislikes, and then what you might like to do after you graduate. The students go out in the workforce for a few days as a test run. The guidance counselor also helps the students with their university and college applications. Already a lot of our students have received acceptance letters and now they are working on scholarship applications.
STAR: How do you cater for students who struggle with the curriculum? Do you have students to repeat grades?
SH: We do, but it’s not a high percentage of students that repeat because of the nature of the program. The school is small and the students get better individual attention with their teachers. Our teachers stay back at least one extra hour after school to help and tutor students that tend to struggle.
The passing grade is 60%, and if they don’t get that percentage then they would have to repeat that subject or subjects. Our goal is to prepare students not just to be successful in school, but also to be successful leaders and citizens. Time management, organization, and respect are all part of the whole student.
STAR: How many students are currently enrolled at ISSL and what is the range of nationalities currently at the school?
SH: Currently we have 82 students, and we are expecting that number to reach at least 100 for September 2014.
More and more people on the island are realizing that this “different” kind of education is quality education. It is a small school so the teacher-student ratio is very good and the students receive a lot of one-on-one attention. We presently have students from Saint Lucia, Germany, England, Taiwan , China, Spain, Greece, Canada, and France.