Antigua and Barbuda
CFS – Revolutionising Classrooms in Antigua and Barbuda
ST JOHNS - At 11-years-old Alexis Nicholas has a very good idea of the things which could make school more enjoyable and productive for her and fellow students at Potters Primary School in Antigua.
As President of the recently-installed Student’s Council at the school, she, along with fellow executive members and classmates Okacy Hutson and Shanice Roberts, are getting a unique chance to have a say in the running of the school, thanks to the Child Friendly School (CFS) model which is rapidly gaining acceptance in Antigua and Barbuda.
“We really feel like part of this school. Our principal respects our ideas and we get a chance to say how the school can be better,” says Alexis, as she proudly gives a tour of the school’s new eating area which was conceptualised by the students. The facility became a reality through generous support from community businesses and parents.
“We are allowed to plan activities which get all the students involved and we play a big part in helping to ensure that the school is always clean by telling everyone that we need to treat everything here as our own,” the Grade 6 student adds.
For Principal Jacinta Atwell the transformation in Alexis and the other students under the Child Friendly School programme, being supported by UNICEF, is nothing short of miraculous.
“I remember her as being a very shy young woman so when I see her and the other members of the executive leading assembly and assuming leadership around the school it really reinforces the logic of having Students’ Councils and giving children that opportunity to assert themselves. As principal I give the CFS my full support,” the experienced educator notes.
School leaders key in success of CFS
Education officials in the twin-island state recognise support from principals as the most critical factor in determining the success or failure of the CFS concept across the country.
“The enthusiasm of the school leaders plays a very key role. Once the principals themselves are enthusiastic and are looking towards serious school improvement they would successfully encourage teachers to come on board. If the CFS is to be successful the enthusiasm of the leader is going to play a great part,” says Director of Education Jacintha Pringle.
“We’ve had resistance in the past with some teachers saying it’s a lot of work, the data collection aspect especially. The age-old problem of putting away the strap is another thing, CFS is a new way of organising schools focussing on the child, and so the change in mind-set will take some time, but I can say in more ways than one that teachers have come on board,” the Director of Education observes.
From a modest start in 2007 at the TN Kirnon School on the outskirts of the City, the CFS programme has now been introduced to all 29 government-run primary schools and two secondary schools, thereby having a positive impact on the lives of an estimated 12,000 students.
“CFS is alive in Antigua and Barbuda, especially in the primary schools. Each of the education offices has responsibility for monitoring the schools in their zones and the schools are all at different stages in terms of implementation,” notes Education Officer Desiree Antonio who has responsibility for CFS roll-out in Antigua.
Focus on more than behaviour management
CFS started with behaviour management, but has now expanded to include other elements such as student-centered strategies, student participation, the formation of Parents Teachers’ Associations and involvement of entire communities in the lives of the schools and by extension the children.
At the rural Freeman’s Ville Primary School, Principal Janice Joseph is hailing improved classroom management and increased parent and community participation as two of the early successes witnessed since the introduction of CFS two years ago.
“We are getting the buy-in from parents and that is very critical to reinforcing the values and principles we are teaching at school. While we are getting that parent involvement, what we are working towards now, is getting fathers involved in the lives of their children more and we have been doing that by having seminars for fathers and inviting them into the school to interact with their children,” Joseph adds.
As they go forward the education officials are realising that the successful engagement of communities, including business places will be critical as schools struggle to maintain reward schemes for students who consistently excel in one area or another.
“This is an area we are having challenges with as some schools are complaining that they do not have the money to fund these schemes. In a lot of cases it is teachers themselves funding these reward schemes and in a lot of cases that is proving to be not sustainable,”
Plan to cement CFS in all schools
Another challenge the Ministry of Education intends to address is a strategy to get CFS integrated into all secondary schools, something that has proven to be a challenge up to this point.
Expansion of CFS is one of the Ministry’s strategy into 2016. Others include: the establishment of school councils in all schools, retraining of teachers in Health & Family Life Education and training for teachers in positive behaviour management and student-centred teaching methods.
There are also plans to increase multi-sectoral advocacy for CFS through further contacts and organized sessions with businesses, NGOs and other persons in civil society with the hope of accomplishing greater buy-in to CFS and foster stronger linkages in these areas with schools.
“We are well poised and our continuing efforts will ensure that each child in Antigua and Barbuda gets a student-centered education which caters to all his or her educational and development needs,” Antonio concludes.