School placement Editorial
Stabroek News
August 31, 2001

School opens on Monday with all the familiar problems still in evidence. At a press briefing on Wednesday Chief Education Officer (CEdO) Ed Caesar touched on some of these, including the knotty issue of school placements. Of course, the Ministry of Education cannot be blamed for the 900 late applications by parents to register their children for school, more than 800 of which were for nursery schools. The remainder, said Mr Caesar, represented primary applications. With the best will in the world it would be hard to process that number of applicants in this country in the space of a week, more especially in circumstances where the ministry operates under so many bureaucratic constraints.

The principles for school allocation currently being applied relate to residence and the workplace(s) of the parents. In the days when there were fewer single parents, the extended family was still in place and mothers were more likely to stay home, there were probably far fewer requests than now for a child to attend school near to a parent's place of employment. Society has changed, however, and a greater number of mothers nowadays have to go out to work and will have no one at home to supervise a child when he or she comes home from school at three o'clock or earlier. In the city there will be greater opportunities of one kind or another for child care - a few companies even have creches for the children of their employees - and for an older age group the pernicious extra lessons industry which has its epicentre in the city (although not confined to there) will keep pupils off the streets until the parent(s) finish work.

Over the years Georgetown has acted like a magnet for those seeking work, and nowadays a large number of people who are employed in the city don't actually live there. The capital's schools are probably feeling the pressure of these demographic shifts, and the CEdO made reference on Wednesday to the need for additional schools to be built, more particularly in the Georgetown district.

There are other factors at work too affecting placement in the city's primary schools. These are perceived as providing a better education (although not in every instance) than many of the rural schools in the capital's immediate environs. It is possible, of course, that some of these schools boast more qualified staff than is the case outside the capital, since teachers with qualifications and experience are more likely to be attracted to an urban environment.

At an earlier press briefing on August 18, the Chief Education Officer had alluded to parents recording inaccurate information on the forms submitted for school placement. He said that they would give inaccurate addresses in order to secure admission for their child into a particular school - presumably one in the city which had a good Common Entrance record. Eventually, of course, it is the Ministry's intention to abolish the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination, although whether that will solve the placement problems in the primary sector is perhaps a moot point.

In the meantime, if it has not already done so, maybe the Ministry of Education should undertake a survey in the capital's school system to find out how many students live outside the Georgetown district, whether their parent or parents work, and where they work. This would not be a huge undertaking if each individual school was asked to provide the data. Then at least the education officials would have some basis for assessing the situation and for predicting future trends.