Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
I have always felt that the distinction between “prestige” schools and government schools is pure nonsense. School are not like people. They aren’t born into a certain socio-economic class. Schools reflect the vision of the people who set them up, and they earn their reputations from their leaders — namely teachers and principals.
This I feel more strongly than ever after reading about the success reported at the Couva East Secondary School. The school boasts six national scholarship winners this year — the same amount as Queen’s Royal College (QRC).
It is shameful that we should feel surprised at this accomplishment. There’s no real reason we should feel that QRC is a better school than Couva East. We simply have been conditioned to feel this way as an excuse for underperformance in government schools.
If you read the names of the scholarship winners you will realise Couva East Secondary has a penchant for smashing stereotypes. The scholarship winners were listed as Neval Ragoonath, Ashanna Ali, Brandon Arjoon, Nicholas Jacob, Danielle Lutchman and Dylan Maharaj. We like to write off boys as underachievers, but notice how many teenage boys are on that list.
Clearly, Couva East Secondary is doing something right, and it’s something other schools need to examine and emulate.
A newspaper article I read last week attributed Couva East’s success to “discipline, self-motivation and a dedicated staff.” In the article, acting principal Rajendra Dilraj said, “The discipline in school is at a very high standard. Students are self-motivated. They know they are not in a prestige school so to speak so they work hard, they really work hard.” There are many lessons in principal Dilraj’s statement:
1. Discipline: This is a school that knows there’s a difference between discipline and punishment. Students take responsibility for their actions and channel their energy into positive directions. Students study in this school.
2. Self-motivation: This does not come out of a vacuum. Teachers and parents must model this behaviour and encourage students to take responsibility for their own education.
3. Dedication: Students will become disciplined and dedicated if they have hard-working, dedicated teachers as role models. As principal Dilraj said, “The entire culture of the school is that you have to be dedicated, you have to work hard because nothing comes easy and these students really work hard… The staff go all out. Some teachers give lessons after school here to just reinforce what was learnt in the day free of charge.”
Isn’t it refreshing to see extra lessons as reinforcement and not a money-making venture that often turns into a lime?
4. A vibrant Parent-Teacher Association (PTA): Dilraj highlighted the PTA as part of the school’s success, and he is right to do so. Parents and teachers must work together to ensure students’ success. Too many students play parents against teachers as an excuse for poor behaviour and poor performance.
5. Caring staff: Dilraj said, “We need to show students that we care. We need to show them that there is a tough road ahead. You really have to work with the students. You have to stay close to the students, build a relationship and in doing so, the students will respect you and when they respect you, they feel they can come to you at any time and both parties, teachers and students, with that relation, can forge ahead.”
6. Reality checks: Most importantly, Couva East Secondary teaches children that life in this push-button digital age is not a snap. It’s hard work.
Is it any wonder this school has won a total of 90 scholarships?