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"Pools", The Punitive Pain in Jamaica's Schools

I am pained to report that because one of my passions is to coach the most hard-working or ambitious of our young people, last week's three experiences compel me to address a deeply ingrained and widespread regressive practice within Jamaican high schools, known by various names, with "pools" being the most common designation. This peculiar practice continues to occasion widespread anxiety and dissatisfaction among students, parents, and education stakeholders. It originated as a seemingly convenient solution, introduced to Jamaica by a calmly brilliant and persuasive British Mathematics educator, who served as a Senior Education Officer here over 25 years ago.. Among her contributions to the educational system was aiding poorly resourced secondary schools in creating their annual timetables. Regrettably, she has since passed away.

Originally, this method aimed to bridge the gap caused by the scarcity of proficient quantitative experts (Quants) in under-resourced schools. It began as a shortcut that, once painstakingly set up, became easier to apply in subsequent years. What was initially a simple accommodation by a gifted mathematician, intended to simplify timetabling for less capable school administrators, has now firmly entrenched itself in our educational institutions, extending even to some of the most prestigious schools of Jamaica and the CARICOM region.

The assumptions about student needs (for careers and tertiary matriculation) upon which the Senior Education Officer and her team initially based their work have undergone profound changes. However, her perceptions and simplifications continue to permeate our educational landscape. I distinctly remember voicing concerns about the potential for rapid obsolescence and unsuitability for its ("pools'") intended purpose. I was not alone in this sentiment. Reports and recommendations from the A-QuEST THINK TANK in the late 1900s and early 2000s brought these concerns to the attention of educational authorities. Several high school principals shared similar reservations and refused to adopt the shortcut "pool" techniques for planning and organizing their schools. Yet, over time, many of these high schools have reluctantly embraced "pools," a trend now prevalent across nearly all Jamaican schools.

Given my deep commitment to combating this practice, I acknowledge the risk of succumbing to emotional fervor in addressing it. To ensure a balanced and dispassionate approach in my column, I will pose pertinent questions, in a Socratic Method of exploration ( The Socratic Method: Fostering Critical Thinking | The Institute for Learning and Teaching) that seems warranted:

Think Critically as you comment.

7.1.0 What precisely is the "pools" practice, and how has it become ingrained in your Jamaican or other Caribbean high schools?

  1. 7.2.0 Can we trace the historical evolution of this practice and understand its original intent versus its current impact?

  2. 7.3.0 How has the "pools" practice affected the educational experience of students, and what specific concerns have emerged from parents and education stakeholders?

  3. 7.4.0 In light of changing assumptions and educational needs, what alternative approaches to timetabling may better serve Jamaican high schools today?

  4. 7.5.0 What official responses or policies, if any, have educational authorities put forth regarding the "pools" practice?

  5. 7.6.0 What lessons can we draw from high school principals who initially resisted "pools," and what factors led schools to eventually adopt this practice?

  6. 7.7.0 What potential solutions or recommendations can we offer to address this now deeply rooted issue within Jamaican education?

By exploring these questions with analytical rigor and impartiality, we can hope to shed light on the challenges posed by the educationally peculiar "pools" practice and identify pathways toward constructive change within our educational system

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