Home / View Point / Guest Columns / The cost of marginalising Tech-Voc Education (Pt 3): corporal punishment, “weak” students and loss of teacher time

The cost of marginalising Tech-Voc Education (Pt 3): corporal punishment, “weak” students and loss of teacher time

“In the old 10%-entering-secondary-school days, some schools allowed students to follow an accelerated four-year programme to take the external examination.

“Would it not make sense to have a similar programme which provides six or maybe even seven years as the norm to cater for the weaker students or, alternatively, have specially trained teachers and smaller classes in mixed-ability groups?

“[…] One other time aspect involves the hours of work for teachers; these need to be reviewed to permit adequate time for staff meetings. At present, [there is a] loss of teaching time as staff meetings have had to be scheduled during teaching time.”

The following guest column—which is the final of three parts—was submitted to Wired868 by former Trinity College (Moka) principal Michael Clarke, who also in Curriculum Development at the Ministry of Education and was Chief Examiner for CSEC Geography until 2016:

Photo: Trinity College Moka students support their team during Coca Cola North Zone quarterfinal action against QRC at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 13 November 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It seems to me that an urgent examination needs to be made of the inputs of time in the Education System, the age at which we start school at the primary level and the length of time spent in secondary schools.

In Scotland, I have learnt, children start primary school at a slightly later age than in England where pupils enter the primary system at the same age as ours do here in T&T. In Scotland, Form 5 performance is generally better than in England.

Maybe if our children remained a little longer in pre-school, fewer children would struggle at primary level. I think it is an idea worth looking at. Our pattern of six or seven years of primary and just five guaranteed years of secondary school was established when the popular belief was that only the top 10% or so were suited for secondary education; nowadays, remember, all students are guaranteed a secondary place. And all are expected to be able to get a full certificate in the same five years as the top 10%.

But the patch that offered secondary access to all primary school students did not make any adjustment to the time students spend in secondary schools. Does it not defy logic that a child who struggled through primary school will complete the secondary programme successfully in five years?

There was a time when 11+ pupils who had not yet learnt to read were given one year of remedial teaching on admission to secondary school and were then expected to complete the secondary programme in the next five years.

Photo: Young Matura football fans enjoy some 2015/16 National Super League action at the Matura Recreation Ground.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

It may be possible to do so but that would require lower teacher-pupil ratios and some adjustment in teaching methods. The System did not provide that. Is that not patently unjust?

In the old 10%-entering-secondary-school days, some schools allowed students to follow an accelerated four-year programme to take the external examination. Would it not make sense to have a similar programme which provides six or maybe even seven years as the norm to cater for the weaker students or, alternatively, have specially trained teachers and smaller classes in mixed-ability groups?

Given the continuing heavy investment in Education—again the biggest beneficiary of the 2018-19 Budget—we owe it to ourselves to research the best time for schooling.

But I suspect that that is yet another change that the System will resist even if the research suggests the need for change.

One other time aspect involves the hours of work for teachers; these need to be reviewed to permit adequate time for staff meetings. At present, following a circular issued in the 1970s to accommodate the shift system, teachers are not required to be on the premises after the end of the last period.

That circular led to loss of teaching time as staff meetings have had to be scheduled during teaching time. That seems to me tantamount to curtailing playing time in the game to enable the coaches to plan strategy and tactics.

Photo: A substitute teacher sketch in comedy, Key & Peele.

Further, co-curricular activities were also curtailed as the rostering of a responsible adult to remain on the premises for about 45 minutes after school as “duty teacher” also died a natural death.

One wonders if TTUTA, the teachers’ union, would be agreeable to having the relevant circular revised.

On the evidence of the relatively recent public reaction by Lynsley Doodhai, the President of that union, to statements made by the Education Minister on teachers’ responsibilities for students’ safety, there is little room for optimism.

The benefits of exalting the Tech Voc subjects and assessing boys and girls separately will not merely be improvements in self-image and performance but also in discipline. Some people wrongly ascribe responsibility for a marked increase in disciplinary problems in schools to the removal of corporal punishment by the then minister of Education, Kamla Persad-Bissessar in 2001. The real cause, however, is the Curriculum and its endemic attitude to the “weaker” students.

In 1991, newly appointed Diego Martin Secondary Principal Paula Daniel formally stopped corporal punishment—already rarely used in the school by then—and continued the use of alternative sanctions. The students continued to respect the Code of Conduct which made teachers responsible for treating even minor infractions themselves.

Problems are thus largely detected early and nipped in the bud. That has been the status quo at the school for going on three decades and discipline in the school has not collapsed.

Photo: A school teacher administers corporal punishment in Uganda.

When, in 2001, the Ministry of Education moved to outlaw corporal punishment in all schools, that decision met with a mixed response. I remember no reference to the Diego Martin Secondary experience/experiment which, one feels, could have been used to garner at least some support for the policy.

It is instructive to note that the Servol Life Centres, established in 1970 by the late Fr Gerard Pantin, receive students who are perceived as potential “disciplinary problems.” The reports are that many of these students are transformed into role models although the system operates without corporal punishment.

Within the conventional school system too, many PE and Music teachers contrive to get these same “troublesome” students to work in harmony with no recourse to corporal punishment. The system is still complaining about that change, one of the major beefs being that effective alternative sanctions have never been put in place. 

I think I have said enough to show that our Education System needs an upgrade. There are other areas in the System that need attention (for example, the streaming of entry to secondary schools).

But if we begin by taking a close look at the three issues highlighted here, the attitude to and timing of Tech-Voc Education, the assessment of boys and girls in co-ed schools and the length of time we guarantee for secondary education, I submit that we are likely to go a long way towards improving discipline and helping all our students develop their full potential…

…with no need for corporal punishment.

Photo: A teacher (right) offers some help to his student.
(Courtesy Mase TV)

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as Ex-Trinity College (Moka) principal Michael Clarke explains the cost of the marginalisation of technical-vocational education in Trinidad and Tobago.

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