The writing is on the blackboard for St Helena’s economy if islanders don’t wake up to low marks in their schools. A report finds standards are poor, teachers lack training, and without radical change, the jobs outlook is bleak.
People may gaze at the sky all they like, and dream of the wealth that a new airport might bring in 2015. But money and employment won’t simply drop from the clouds when the first aircraft begins its approach over Prosperous Bay Plain.
The island’s departing education director says building an economy means drastic change in its schools.
“Education must develop hand in hand with the local economy,” says John Sullivan. “It’s hard to see how one will develop fully without the other.” He says staff are rising to the challenge, but the whole community must help meet the “huge need” to raise standards.
And that’s the polite version. It’s put rather more bluntly in the draft version of the latest Sustainable Development Plan. It says:
“The standard of education in all sectors is poor, with students achieving well below the UK national average at all key stages.
“Students leave school with a low education base and this means that the outlook for higher education and employment opportunities is bleak.
“A large percentage of the teachers are inadequately trained, which leads to poor quality teaching.
“Parents do not support the pupils at home sufficiently: a particular issue with boys, who are generally not motivated to learn and who achieve very low levels of attainment.”
The message is that creating an enterprise culture on St Helena will need people with higher-order skills, and the ability to acquire more: islanders must learn how to learn.
The story is not all gloomy. Standards in some departments at Prince Andrew School have risen markedly in the past decade or so. A-level pass rates have risen.
And Saints have achieved at the highest level: in recent years, the island has produced its first medical doctor; another Saint was recently awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree by Bristol University, and a government department is headed by another St Helenian with a doctorate. All three are women.
In Canada, Daniel Yon has become a university professor. And the island’s supply ship, the RMS St Helena, is captained by Saints who studied for years to earn their Master’s tickets.
But they are the exceptions.
James Greenwood shows there’s a will to bring in talented school staff. As well as teaching technology and enterprise, he is a curriculum adviser for both primary and secondary schools on St Helena. He says there are “gifted teachers” among his colleagues.
Despite his physical isolation in the middle of the South Atlantic, he is an influential figure, sharing his thoughts on education with 5,000 followers around the world on the internet messaging site, Twitter.
He also writes a website, under the heading, “James Greenwood, passionate about education & technology”.
In a move that may surprise many, he is to introduce Classics and Ancient Greek at A level and GCSE from September 2012. The course fits with his views on teaching critical thinking. In a recent internet post, he wrote:
“One of the fundamental questions I find myself asking in my curriculum review is ‘how do we get the kids to think?’ – students will rarely question received wisdom. They instead accept it and want to move on to what’s next. There is a real lack of critical thinking across the curriculum.”
The draft Strategic Development Plan sets out improvement targets that would make many a UK head teacher quail – even without the obstacles faced on a remote island.
The plan seeks to double the number of children reaching the benchmark standard for maths and science at the end of primary school – within three years.
The ambition is for 60% of Year 6 children to have reached that Level 4 score by 2014; and by 2015, 70%. The same target has been set for English, where performance is not as poor.
Another target seeks a 50% increase in the number of students reaching the top A-C grades in five subjects at GCSE.
The plan calls for measures including:
- better education management, with challenging targets for teachers
- better use of resources
- more professionally-trained teachers
- changing the culture of learning on the island – including for adults
Quality, it says, will be raised across the board. “The number of teachers qualified to UK standards will be increased annually. Retaining and attracting high-quality teachers permanently, through overseas recruitment and on-island training, is a priority.”
Even those in charge can expect close scrutiny: “Senior leaders within the education department will be rigorously monitored to ensure standards are improving and to enhance accountability.”
Part of the strategy is to develop “an enthused and self-assured” community of teachers.
Better skills training for adults is promised. Creating an entrepreneurial culture and encouraging new businesses is seen as vital, so there will be more apprenticeships and the adult education service will focus more on the private sector.
It’s all about equipping islanders to land the kind of jobs that St Helena Government expects the island to need if the airport spawns an enterprise economy.
“By developing skills, the local workforce will be in a better position to determine their future,” says the plan. “We want people to lead as fulfilling a life as possible. Getting the best possible start is one of the ways of reaching this.”
To be honest, I don’t think you should blame the teachers and parents solely….it’s the young people who don’t put in all the effort to study!
Robyn Sim, St Helena
This is very sad to hear as over the years St Helena has had very good Saint teachers, but they have left the profession to go abroad and work as stewards, cleaners, etc because they get paid more money doing these jobs. I spent nearly two years on St Helena working as a nursery assistant but left to take up employment on the Falklands in the 80′s as a club assistant, which paid me three times more than working on the Education Department on St Helena. Sadly 20+ years and things have not changed. It is so unfair for the St Helena people as they get paid pittance compared to the ex-pat who gets hired to do a job on St Helena, whether it is educational, medical etc, they get paid UK wages and used to receive free holidays back to the UK, free housing, and free water and electricity. It would be interesting to know if this still happens? When you think about it, Britain is still treating us who are British Citizens like slaves… after all Saints do the job just as good as them and sometimes even better but who gets the benefits? Not our Saints! Therefore can you blame us for leaving the island? We are still slaves there as far as the government is concerned… maybe that is what the British government want so they can move in there and have the good life on St Helena. As for some of our councillors, it makes you wonder who they are there for! They seem to forget they get elected by the people of St Helena and are there to fight for the PEOPLE OF ST HELENA!!!
Natasha Stroud, UK
Let’s hope St Helena teachers don’t get pushed out, or less St Helena people have the opportunity to go into teaching. It would be a shame. Let’s hope there is more teacher training to the UK standard for our Saints.
Nicola Jane Wallace, UK
Speaking as a parent of two school students I’d like to thank John for his contributions. He made a real positive difference during his time here.
John Turner, St Helena
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Strategic Development Plan approved – executive council report, 29 March 2012