Each of the three winners in the STAR’s Anniversary Essay competition held in June selected and wrote on the topic: ‘Education & Culture – The education system in Saint Lucia does not cater for all skills and individuals. Should special schools be implemented for students who can make better use of vocational skills than academic skills?’ First place went to Khadijah Halliday, a student of the St Joseph’s Convent. Ariel Albert from St Joseph’s Convent was in second place and Omar Combie, a student at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, was in third place. Read their essays on page 15.
Vocational training involves the refining of specific skills. This method of education particularly caters to those who are not seemingly ‘academic’ in the sense that they may harbour preferential interests or inborn capabilities towards specific trades or skills. In Saint Lucia, more attention should be devoted to such education as it would benefit not only the youth as individuals, but also the nation in its entirety.
There are a great deal of misconceptions pertaining to vocational education. Many persons mentally associate this method of learning with students who require special needs or those deemed inadequately suited for tertiary education. This could not be further from the truth as there are copious numbers of individuals who excel in particular skills but do not possess the innate ability, as some others do, to learn successfully in traditional schools. However, academic education is strictly compulsory in Saint Lucia and consequently, their options are limited.
Contrary to popular belief, vocational training presents myriads of advantages. First and foremost, in Saint Lucia particularly, the alarming growth rate of crime continues to be a major concern. The introduction of a vocational educational system can help to ameliorate this problem, as vocational training allows young people to immediately commence working after secondary school, in their skill specific field.
In addition, access to the learning of trades provides students with practical skills that can easily be applied to daily life, at work and at home. For example, one who has specialized in carpentry may be calmer at the sight of a broken desk leg that one who has never been exposed to woodwork.
An installation of accessible vocational training schools may also assist in improving the standards of health among individuals. Involvement in practical skills requires greater movement around a workspace, as opposed to sitting behind a desk for the majority of the average eight hour work day.
Another major benefit of considering the introduction of a vocational system, as it pertains to health, may be the decreased occurrence of mental illnesses, self-harm practices and suicide among adolescents. A number of these cases are a result of pressure at schools. An individual is habitually regarded as inferior when his or her grades are not deemed to be satisfactory. Unfortunately, there is no alternative in the present educational system for this individual to consider. Consequently, with this perception of failure, an individual may resort to extreme measures.
Presently in the Caribbean, work is being executed to increase the accessibility of such education. The Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ), an award initiated by CARICOM, allows individuals to be recognized for their achievements in particular trades and skills.
However, specifically in Saint Lucia, there is yet still a pertinent need for vocational training to be instilled. The many skill gaps in various economies worldwide are increasing the need for attention to be placed on vocational education. The introduction of such a beneficial educational system will broaden paths and provide opportunities for many.
— Khadijah Halliday (St Joseph’s Convent Secondary School)
Albert Einstein once stated that ‘education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind.’ With the high rate of unemployment in Saint Lucia, especially among our youth, it is about time that we change our education system, from one which focuses primarily on academics, to one which focuses on the training of minds through vocational skills training.
The Saint Lucian education system often sidelines the teaching of auto repair, clothing and textiles, wood work, and food and nutrition and similar subjects. Vocational subjects are often stigmatized and the usual perception is that they are only pursued by individuals who are not able to cope with academics. On the other hand, the word “bright”, in local parlance, is used to describe a student pursuing academics subjects especially in field of science. I however believe that as long as one has the ability to do something and the passion for it that they should be able to work in that field without being looked down upon by society.
Some have debated whether the construction of more schools geared towards vocational skills training is the correct approach. As much as I would like to advocate the acceptance and teaching of vocational skills, I do not deem it necessary to construct more schools. Our current infrastructure can be used because St. Lucia is a small island developing state with limited resources.
Universal secondary education was introduced in 2006 so that all youth could have access to a secondary education. The island currently has an impressive number of schools, some of which remain underutilised. For example, when the Hospitality Studies Division of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College was relocated to the George Charles Secondary School premises due to health concerns, the entire student body of that institution was relocated to the Jon Odlum Secondary School since space was available. To build more schools when we already have so much extra space in the current ones would only be a waste of money. Instead, we should focus on the upkeep and renovation of our current infrastructure and the implementation of meaningful programmes for the populace.
Saint Lucia should create programmes or special curricula which focus on vocational training and which incorporate basics competency skills in Mathematics and English. Students who are not very interested in geometry or trigonometry but who are talented when it comes to working with their hands would no longer be seen as life’s failures but rather those who simply chose to go on another route to succeed in life. Increased vocational skills training will ultimately reduce unemployment, create a culture of entrepreneurship and instil a sense of pride in our people. We need to stop giving handouts and equip our people with the tools to succeed.
— Ariel Albert (St. Joseph’s Convent Secondary School)
Albert Einstein wrote “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This quote is applicable to St. Lucia’s current education system because this system is streamlined so that the academically inclined will thrive but those whose ‘genius’ is not academic are left at a tragic disadvantage. This is why I agree that special or vocational schools should be implemented, in order for students to get more one-on-one mentoring, to build confidence in their practical skills and to have an advantage when entering the working world.
We students are made aware of our academic ability from an early age by means of the Common Entrance Examination. However, despite our various academic levels, all students are then forced to write the same exam (CSEC examination) at the end of our secondary school tenure. How is that fair? It’s obvious that those who are studious will excel but what about the weaker learners?
In 2009, the students who opted to attend the Gros-Islet Secondary School, were entering with grades ranging from 21.67% to 63.33% however at the end of their final secondary school year (2014), the school had an overall pass rate of about 38%. Why were these students put in situation where most of them failed?
That’s where the vocational schools come in. Students whose strengths lie in practical skills (e.g. sewing, woodwork, art) are trained to master these skills in an environment where there is a deeper student-teacher interaction. This way, those primary school students with book smarts can move on to secondary school while those who prefer hands-on work can attend the vocational schools.
Also, there is so much emphasis put on examinations like Common Entrance that low performers are ashamed of their results and are sometimes ridiculed by others because of them. This leads to many of these students having low self esteem and this only worsens through their time in secondary school. Low self esteem can lead to a bevy of problems like depression and students dropping out of school.
However, with the vocational schools, the focus is on developing the skills that the students are already good at or show interest in e.g. computer engineering, hairdressing and accounting. Teaching them the required skills and allowing them the opportunity to do practical work not only help them to build confidence in their abilities but in themselves as well.
Furthermore, the skills and experience they obtain from these schools will give them an advantage in the working world. Vocational schools often give internship opportunities to students and bring in professionals to teach practical courses. These make the students more appealing to employers because they already have some work experience.
So in conclusion, the implementation of vocational schools is an initiative that would definitely improve the education system because it gives those students whose “genius” is in practical skills a chance to thrive and strive for excellence.
— Omar Combie (Sir Arthur Lewis Community College)