Controlling extra lessons

Stabroek News
April 6, 2001

In our Wednesday edition Chief Education Officer Ed Caesar was reported as saying at a press conference last week that if new education laws were enacted, extra lessons would be far more controlled, and parents would find them much less of a burden than they do at present. He agreed with a reporter that even some of the pupils attending the established private schools took extra lessons after hours, suggesting that parents thought that regardless of which school their children attended, extra lessons were essential for good results.

The legislation in question was drafted two years ago, but has not yet been taken before Parliament. If the proposed bill and accompanying regulations, said Mr Caesar, had gone to the National Assembly earlier, then bottom house schools would have been controlled, and some of them might even have become "extinct."

While legislation is important, it is, of course, a moot point as to whether in and of itself it would have a major impact on the situation. The Ministry of Education has in the past issued regulations and guidelines about extra lessons, but nothing much has changed. The real issue would be whether the new provisions - if and when they are eventually passed - would actually be implemented.

In addition, it has to be remembered that the private tuition which takes place throughout the school system now had its origins in the failure of teachers in general (although it by no means applied to every teacher) to teach to an acceptable standard during school hours. The migration of many qualified and/or experienced members of staff, the undermining of the professional status of teachers, and the decline in the value of their real wages all played a role in bringing about the current situation. There are many anecdotal stories of teachers doing nothing in the classroom during official hours, and then teaching the syllabus during extra lessons. It must be presumed, therefore, that after all this time some of them have become financially dependent on their unofficial fees.

What this means is that the Government cannot wave a legislative magic wand and expect extra lessons to disappear overnight. There would also have to be a change of attitude on the part of the teachers involved as well as the parents, otherwise they will conspire behind the backs of the authorities to circumvent the new law whenever it comes into force.

In the first place, the administration would have to look seriously at restoring quality teaching to our classrooms. Contrary to what it seems to believe, this would not mean training large numbers of young recruits who themselves have a deficient education at the primary and secondary levels. Rather it would involve attracting back some of those qualified teachers who have emigrated, particularly to the Caribbean. This would necessitate that they be paid at rates which were somewhat competitive with other Caricom territories. While teachers' salaries have improved in recent times, they have not increased anywhere near enough to persuade educators in the islands that it is time to return home.

There would also have to be a campaign to persuade parents that extra lessons are really unnecessary. They should not be afraid to report teachers who do not attend classes regularly, or when they do, do not teach those classes. An atmosphere of order and discipline in a school starts with the teaching staff, and members of staff should be held to basic standards.

The extra lessons syndrome has now become so entrenched, that with the best will in the world it will take time for it to disappear. Legislation is only the starting point.