Monday, April 27, 2009


My Experience of the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School.
A paper prepared for the Comprehensive Education Review Team by Don Mitchell CBE QC, dated 27 April 2009.
I am grateful to have been invited to address the team on the subject of my views on how the present comprehensive education system is working. As you know, I am a retired lawyer and High Court Judge. I occupy some of my retirement time by teaching part-time at the High School. My subject is A-Level law for the CAPE programme. I teach one class for two hours a day, three days a week. My students are in Form VI A and B. I have been teaching only since September 2007. My exposure to the High School system is limited. However, I have my views, relatively uninformed as they are. I am grateful for the opportunity to share them with you.
I have about 15 students in all. They are aged 17-18 years old. They are in the final years of High School. Being Form VI students, they may be described as the cream of the cream of Anguilla’s education system. They are not intending to become technical persons. They aspire to academic and professional careers. They would not be doing law if it were otherwise. Besides, they have all assured me that they want to be lawyers, business professionals, doctors, and accountants. You would expect that, with these ambitions, their work product would be of a high standard.
My students have recently submitted their research papers for the 2009 School Based Assessment, part of their final exams. I have been reading them and grading them. The following are samples taken at random from five different essays written for this year’s CAPE Law SBAs. I have made no attempt to rank them or to select particularly poor paragraphs. I have not selected particularly bad essays. I picked the first five that came to hand, and opened the pages at random:
“Drinking under the influence of alcohol, poses a serious threat to not only the driver who is impaired but also the driver on the receiving end of the crash. As a result of a negligent act of driving whether alcohol consumption or otherwise, damages are awarded are great. “
. . . . .
“In order for one to succeed in defamation they have to make sure that their words were Defamatory, that the words refer to one and that they were published to at least one person other than to the claimant.”
. . . . .
“Therefore, with the technological advancement of cell phones became an integral role in our society and people have come to be extremely reliant on cell phones especially while driving. However, the convenience they offer must be judge against the hazard they pose.”
. . . . .
“The likelihood of harm would therefore be that if Mr B does not obey the 2 second rule, it would be more than likely that upon a sudden stop by Mrs A, due to no fault of hers, Mr B would crash into the rear of her car; The seriousness of the Injury would depend on whether Mrs A was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident or not; The defendant’s conduct, Mr B’s, would have no great social value unless the accident was of a different nature; finally, it would possibly have been more costly and less practicable for the defendant to avoid the accident at such a last minute by maybe swerving unto the side walk or further out into the road.”
. . . . .
“In evaluating such an offence to with the burning of domestic waste in Anguilla, there are offence which can deal with such an offence that has been embedded in its Criminal Code and the Nuisance Regulation.”
Most of these essays are painfully difficult to read. It is hard sometimes to understand what the student is writing about. Vocabulary, punctuation, syntax and grammar, the basic ingredients two of the “three Rs”, in these essays are poor. I continue to be dissatisfied at the inadequate level of English language usage. My concern is that these students will leave Anguilla’s high school system essentially uneducated. They cannot justifiably expect any degree of advancement in any of the careers they have been telling me they aspire to follow. In my view, they are the product of an unsatisfactory education system.
In my estimation, only 3 of my 15 students can either write or express themselves verbally above a Form II standard. The 3 exceptions are the children of professionals. I assume their parents put pressure on them to achieve and to excel in school. Those children who do not come from equally ambitious backgrounds are not being helped by the present school system. I had not realised that the Comprehensive Education System as it works in Anguilla is designed to ensure that only the children who are the beneficiaries of additional home schooling would reach an acceptable standard of basic education after they have graduated from the High School.
I am conscious that the secondary school system is not the only culprit in this failure shown towards the students of Anguilla. I understand that the children’s education problems start long before they reach the High School. Parents, who were too busy to read to them when they were very young, are partly to blame. The primary schools are graduating students who cannot read or write. There is frequently no adult present when the students come home after class to encourage them to study and prepare. Drugs, alcohol and pornography on the internet are pervasive. These adversely impact young persons in Anguilla when they are left to their own devices.
The paucity of the facilities at the High School is noticeable. The school library serves as the Form VI students’ lounge. The books are in the mess you would expect. I have not asked, but it is unlikely that any student, other than a sixth former, would dare to enter the room. The public library is no substitute. It is a place to go to gossip and to play computer games. The different reading rooms in the library are not invigilated when there are students in them, as they ought to be. The public library of Anguilla is distinguished mainly by the absence of worthwhile literature and reference works. There has been no attempt to build up a permanent collection of regional and international classics. There has for years been a culture among the public library staff that if a book is old then it must be deemed soiled and fit only to be disposed of. Several of my students have told me that they have not borrowed a book from the public library to read for either pleasure or instruction in over ten years. Their explanation is that there are no books worth reading in the library. There is no invigilated study room in the school, as there ought to be, for students who have no class to sit quietly and study. The result is that there are groups of boys and girls hiding in corners of the schoolyard laughing and chatting at all hours of the day. There is no supervision of the students in the school yard during breaks or at lunch time. This encourages them to engage in bad behaviour. It reinforces their perception that there are no consequences for bad behaviour. Foul language is commonly overheard, among boys and girls. There is no one to report their misconduct, and no penalty of any consequence if anyone did. Many of the teachers I meet are disillusioned and disgruntled. The teacher’s common room is a dump. I have never seen more than five or six teachers in it at lunch time or at any other time, except when the Principal holds meetings. The explanation for its present dilapidated state is that it is old, about to be replaced, and not worth repainting.
There is no necessity for the education authorities to compound all the wider social faults and defects by providing an education system that seems designed to ensure that the present generation of Anguillian students will not be able to hold their own when they grow up and go out into the real world.
The comprehensive education system as I have found it has been a disappointment. Anguilla’s children are being cheated out of a decent secondary education. Radical reform is needed. I am not qualified to make recommendations on how to reform the system. I will leave that for others who are more qualified than I am.