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"Pools" and the Problem of Gaslighting, Frustration, and Another Persistent Pain in our Schools


The education system in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean region has long been a topic of discussion, with both successes and challenges. One of the persistent issues that have plagued these educational institutions is the practice commonly referred to as "pools." This practice, initially introduced with the intention of simplifying timetabling and improving resource allocation, has (d)evolved over the years, causing frustration among students, parents, and education stakeholders. In this article, I will explore the practice of "pools" and its impact on the educational experience, shedding light on the issues of gaslighting, frustration, and the persistent pain it has caused within our schools.

Understanding the "Pools" Practice

The "pools" practice involves categorizing students into smaller classes based on their selected subjects for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC). It was originally conceived as a solution to address resource constraints in under-resourced schools and to simplify the process of creating timetables. However, over time, this practice has become quite deeply ingrained in Jamaican and CARICOM high schools, leading to a range of concerns.

Historical Evolution and Original Intent

The roots of the "pools" practice can be traced back to the 1980s/1990s when it was introduced in Jamaica to streamline scheduling and improve academic outcomes. Its original intent was noble - to provide quality education to all students, regardless of the limitations faced by under-resourced schools. It was seen as a way to level the playing field and ensure that every student had a fair opportunity to succeed.

However, the system has evolved, not necessarily to benefit students, but to hastily "optimize" administrative efficiency...despite....

The original intent of providing equal educational opportunities to all students has been overshadowed by the convenience it offers to schools in terms of timetabling and resource allocation.

Gaslighting and Frustration: Impact on Students

One of the most significant issues with the "pools" practice is its impact on students. While it may have benefits for some, it often leads to gaslighting and frustration for many others. Gaslighting refers to the manipulation of someone into doubting their own reality or feelings. In the context of education, it occurs when students are pressured or influenced into choosing subjects they have little interest in or are forced into career paths they never intended to pursue.

For academically gifted students, the "pools" practice can be particularly frustrating. They may find themselves limited in their subject choices, unable to explore their full potential or pursue their passions. This frustration can lead to a sense of powerlessness and disillusionment with the educational system.

Persistent Pain and Concerns of Stakeholders

The persistent pain caused by the "pools" practice is not limited to students alone; it extends to parents and education stakeholders. Parents are concerned about the limitations imposed on their children's choices and potential. They worry that the system pressures students into selecting subjects they may not be genuinely interested in, ultimately diminishing their potential and influence on society.

Education stakeholders, including organizations like A-QuEST, have been voicing concerns about the "pools" practice for decades. We argue that this system restricts students' academic and career choices, limiting their ability to pursue their true interests. The lack of flexibility and equity concerns within the practice have raised alarm bells among those invested in the future of education. The cancerous "early specialization" that besets the offerings of Jamaica's school system metastasizes wondrously under our peculiar and oppressive 'pools in schools' environmental movement. I deeply regret that the Jamaican education system has caved to accept the regressive "pools" practice, which is a backwards system that disadvantages young people.

Seeking Solutions and Recommendations

In light of the persisting issues associated with the "pools" practice, it is imperative to explore alternative approaches to timetabling that better serve Jamaican high schools today. Several potential solutions and recommendations can help address the deeply rooted problems caused by this practice:

  1. Rotation System: Implementing a well-planned rotation system for subject offerings can ensure that all students have equal access to a wide range of courses. Historical data and demand trends should guide this planning, allowing schools to liberally offer specialized courses without overburdening them.

  2. Teacher Availability: Recognizing teachers' specializations when assigning them to subjects is crucial. Aligning teachers with their strengths and qualifications can optimize schedules and ensure students receive the best possible instruction.

  3. Stakeholder Feedback: Involving parents, teachers, students, and community members is essential for effective decision-making in education. Comprehensive surveys tailored to each stakeholder group can provide insights into the relevance of certain subjects and the need for flexibility. Creating an online platform for anonymous feedback submission can encourage more responses and honest opinions.

  4. Flexibility in Subject Selection: Schools should allow for more flexibility in subject selection, enabling students to choose a wide range of subjects. This approach fosters a more holistic and adaptable education system.

  5. Personalized Timetables: Tailoring timetables to individual students' needs and interests can enhance their educational experiences. Acknowledging that students have diverse learning preferences and goals allows them to pursue subjects they are passionate about.

  6. Resource Allocation: Schools should conduct comprehensive resource inventories to optimize the use of classrooms, labs, and equipment. This ensures that resources are distributed efficiently and equitably, reducing the need for investment or expansion.

Official Responses and Policy Changes

While the Jamaican Ministry of Education has not, to my knowledge, issued any official policies regarding the "pools" practice, it is crucial for educational authorities to take a more proactive stance. Encouraging schools to adopt more flexible timetabling approaches is a step in the right direction. However, it is essential to recognize that meaningful change may require a more comprehensive policy shift.

Learning from earlier Principals' Resistance

There are valuable lessons to be learned from several high school principals who initially resisted the "pools" practice. These educators understood the potential drawbacks of the system and the importance of prioritizing students' needs and choices. Some schools eventually adopted the "pools" system due to peer pressures, but this should serve as a reminder that educational decisions should always prioritize students' best interests.

Here's the thing:

The ragged and worn-out "pools" practice in Jamaican and Caribbean high schools has been a source of gaslighting, frustration, and persistent pain for students, parents, and education stakeholders. While it was originally intended to simplify timetabling and improve resource allocation, it has evolved into a system that often limits students' choices and opportunities. This practice hinders academic and career exploration, leading to disillusionment and frustration among students. To address this now deeply rooted weed of an issue, schools must shift their focus to prioritize students' potential and provide them with the tools they need for a successful future. Flexibility, personalized timetables, and equitable resource allocation can pave the way for a more student-centric educational system, ultimately leading to a brighter future for all. It is time to put an end to the gaslighting, frustration, and persistent pain caused by the "pools" practice in our schools.

Footnote: It is worth noting that the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) offers an effective and inexpensive solution to the present laborious and often inefficient methods used in timetabling for most Jamaican high schools. AI technologies can vastly improve the scheduling process by optimizing resource allocation, considering teacher specializations, and accommodating student preferences in a more efficient and effective manner. With the assistance of AI-powered algorithms, schools can, in minutes, develop complete institution-wide timetables that align with students' needs and aspirations, offering a level of flexibility and adaptability that was previously challenging to achieve. By leveraging AI, educational institutions can revolutionize their timetabling systems, ensuring a more student-centric approach that enhances the overall educational experience. It is essential to embrace the potential of AI to easily bring about positive change and innovation in our educational systems, ultimately benefiting both students and educators alike. I write from personal experience of having AI craft a timetable for a very large high school, based on having my Sixth Form students answer the machine's many intelligent and insightful prompts. And NO, unnu, lef mi alone, mi nah luk fi get hired fi duh timetabling. AI can teach the time-tablers itself. Weeks of toil by a team can be reduced to an hour of smarter work. Di yuut dem need dis bad bad.

Thank you for the benefit of your time. Regards, Dennis A. Minott, PhD CEO of A-QuEST College Coaches Tel/ WhatsApp: (876) 418 0418

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