With the ever-increasing thirst for knowledge, it’ll come as no surprise that most citizens consider the greatest thing a government can do is to make higher education affordable to all the people.
Saint Lucia’s education system leaves much to be desired. Too many continue to be denied relevant education. With the SLP government taking office in 1997, the then minister for education Mario Michel spoke incessantly of Universal Secondary Education that he said would finally answer the nation’s prayer.
After two terms in office and much consultation, the USE system was finally implemented in 2006. With more secondary schools built by the SLP, including the Marigot and Gros Islet Secondary Schools, the USE system permitted all students to be assigned to a secondary school.
The SLP also implemented the transformation of technical and senior primary schools like Vieux Fort Technical and Grande Riviere Senior Primary into secondary schools, so as to ensure under-performing students had the opportunity to receive secondary education.
To better understand the concept of USE and its impact, The STAR spoke with Grande Riviere Secondary School educator, formerly of the Vieux Fort Technical Secondary, Nintus Magre.
STAR: Do you think USE has adequately catered for our technical students?
NM: I don’t think these students were adequately catered for. First of all, students were assigned to schools and very little consideration was given to their literacy skills. One of the modules that we got from Jamaica was that the child should be functioning at Grade 10, and a lot of those students were functioning as low as Grade K (kindergarten) and Pre-K.
So they were not able to fully implement the technical education. I guess when we talked of technical education we were thinking of laytá, and not necessarily a subject of vocation that has its language or jargon and requires a certain level of intelligence. If a student is not prepared, especially in literacy and numeracy, they will naturally struggle even to access education that is supposed to be designed for them.
STAR: What is your opinion of USE?
NM: In terms of my own personal opinion, I remember I sat at one of the sessions with the then Minister of Education Mario Michel, and I told him that I believe the approach should have been Universal Education, not necessarily Secondary. Because the secondary school is fed by the primary school and the primary school is fed by the infant and early childhood. And at that time, if there were discussions, there was nothing advanced or nothing written to cater to the needs at the levels before secondary education. So obviously I had my own misgivings about USE.
STAR: You have taught at both of the so-called technical schools, which have been transformed to secondary schools after the implementation of USE. How has USE impacted these two institutions?
NM: The two schools actually have literacy and special education programs, and these programs are set up primarily to do the intervention for the students who are functioning way below and behind. And talking about the full core, students who are in form one right up to form five still find themselves having to be assisted because they are struggling with their numeracy and literacy.”
STAR: What were some of the significant issues that surfaced during the period of dialogue in preparation for USE?
NM: I remember the minister using one of the catch phrases, “that every child would gain access” [to a secondary school], and I told him, that that should be changed to every ‘child will gain entry and not necessarily access.’ Because the students through being assigned to the school have right to entry, but not gaining the skills technically and otherwise, they would not have access to that institution and can’t benefit in any way, shape or form. So I made this point very loudly and the minister said that I was playing with semantics.
My other query was, now that you have given everyone entry into secondary education, what has been put in place in terms of post secondary level education, to continue preparing these students for the world of work?
Already we had the problem of students graduating and not sufficient job places made available. Now we have [students with] varying skills graduating; you have those with technical skills, the average students and those who were excelling.
And still with have the one Sir Arthur Lewis Community College and the A-Level and Post Secondary Divisions at Vieux Fort Comprehensive Campus B catering to every student who leaves a secondary school. So these were some of the points that I advanced at these consultations.