It is simply not enough to identify the issues that may exist in an existing education system in one’s quest for improved design of education; it is necessary to highlight, out of the discussion, any and all vital elements that exist within it. In so doing, the first step is to define the central term, “education.”
What is education? People differ sharply on this question. It means different things to different individuals because of certain variables that would influence their understanding of the term, “education.” However, a scholarly meaning is necessary for the purpose of this article: a humane and natural education is one that faithfully reflects the essential characteristics of nature and of humanity. One characteristic of both is the constant evolution of improved design (Pratt, 2011).
What are some of the characteristics of nature? Design is at the heart of nature. Nature has a well-ordered system–think of its processes which are well-ordered, for example, the seasons in the Caribbean (wet and dry) that come and go, which are time-bound. Nature has beauty with its absolutely breath-taking blossoms all around us, and its vastness in the horizon, which imbues the human body with peace. Also, it has diversity (colours), dynamism (day changes to night and vice versa) and sustains human beings (fruits, vegetables). Of particular significance is that nature operates for all. It is in this sense that we, as a nation, should have a closer view of the educational model from which the Ministry of Education (MOE) operates.
The Ministry of Education has articulated its commitment to provide education for all, and has provided documentation of its commitment. The MOE’s commitment to providing education for all is defined in the Education Act of 1999 (revised 2001) as follows, “Subject to available resources, all persons are entitled to receive an educational programme appropriate to their needs…” (Section 14: the Right to Education). The MOE reinforces its commitment in several other contexts: the Education Statistical Digest (2019) which states that primary education is compulsory for all children; the Education Sector Development Plan (ESDP) 2000-2005 and beyond which speaks to increasing all learners’ levels of literacy and other skills; and the Education for All (EFA) 2015 National Review Report in which its third goal points to ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through quality education. Based on this commitment, one can safely conclude that the MOE has an educational model whose primary aim is to provide quality education for all.
The main purpose of this article is to address the MOE’s educational model, in hopes of sensitizing stakeholders toward improved design of education so that no child is left behind in today’s world.
Over the past years, the MOE has embarked upon a number of initiatives, in its effort to improve the education system, which is commendable. Notwithstanding the various educational services provided, from early childhood through tertiary, the MOE provides the following: specialist teachers to public primary schools in addition to the regular classroom teachers; student support services for students in public primary schools and welfare programmes for those in public secondary schools. Also, up to 2015/16, teachers were granted study leave with pay. There were appointments of the following persons: School Attendance and Welfare Officer to ensure that children of school attending age were in school and, an Attendance Officer responsible for investigating truant behaviour and absenteeism, and to encourage students to attend school at the public secondary level, inter alia.
However, despite all these achievements on the one hand, on the other hand, a critical question must be answered. Is the educational model designed to meet the needs of all students as expected?
Of central concern to me, a Saint Lucian citizen, researcher, curriculum maker, language policy maker, and former teacher, teacher educator, and school administrator–are the overwhelming public secondary school dropout rates over the past years that have been recorded.
The Education Statistical Digest (2016) reveals the following: for the period 2002/03 to 2014/15, the dropouts for the public secondary level fluctuated between 110 and 275. The total number of male dropouts exceeded that of females throughout the years, except for the period 2002/3. It is noteworthy also that there were both male and female dropouts in all the Forms (1-5). In certain years, there were no male and/or female dropouts in Form 1. However, there were dropouts from Forms 2-5 throughout the years, with Form 5 recording the highest numbers, followed by Form 4. Male dropouts dominated female dropouts in Form 5 throughout the years and, for the most part, Form 4 also. The Digest (2019) shows similar results for the following years 2015/16 to 2017/18. Notably, there was an increase in the number of dropouts from 161 in 2016/17 to 204 in 2017/18. Males accounted for approximately 65% of the total dropouts. The EFA 2015 National Review Report also notes the increase in the dropout rate at the secondary level.
Why have those students dropped out of school? Where are they now? How are they doing presently? Has a national survey been conducted to ascertain the reasons behind the issue of students failing to complete their secondary education? Are the measures put in place stringent enough to ensure these dropouts ‘drop back in’ and earn a diploma like their peers? Finally, is the education system in Saint Lucia successful in providing quality education that meets the needs of all students?
The effects of dropping out of high school are considerable. The unemployment rate among dropouts, for example, can be twice as high as that of graduates. High unemployment rate can have adverse effects on students themselves, schools, families, communities, and the country in general. As educators/stakeholders, one of the critical things we need to bear in mind is that while students from low-income families tend to have the highest dropout rate, dropouts tend to cite schools they disliked, and subjects with a high verbal content considered irrelevant to their life goals (Pratt, 1990).
Newer strategies probably need to be employed by the Ministry of Education to help mitigate the present situation on the island:
1. A needs assessment survey could be conducted to try to ascertain why students dropped out of school and, ultimately, to try meet their needs;
2. Successful dropout prevention programmes commence early;
3. Provide timely identification of student problem and counselling;
4. Use sensitive and responsive staff, and provide more individualized instruction than conventional programmes.
While it is presently not feasible to eliminate the exceptionally high number of dropouts, we must make every effort to eradicate student dropouts as soon as possible because it sometimes takes only one individual whose reason for dropping out of school may have been because “No one cared if I attended,” or “School wasn’t relevant to my life” to massacre a school or society. Today’s child is very likely tomorrow’s Prime Minister, or hardened criminal to be feared by all. Improved design of education increases the probability of success for all.