Saturday, 9 November 2013

Solutions to Jamaica,s Transient Education System

In recent times Jamaica’s education system has been under the microscope and the findings have not been favorably in regard to what now passes off as education in the society. Jamaica’s education system can be described as transient in nature despite pockets of excellence scattered across the various layers of the system. Each year a significant number of the student population simply passes through the school system without acquiring the requisite skills and knowledge necessary for them to become meaningful and productive members of the society. With each passing year we find that more and more of our parents are more concerned about whether or not their child has made the graduation list as against whether their child has qualified to sit an eternal examination.  Isn’t this rather interesting and disturbing? 

 The “passing through the system approach” is especially worrying for many of our boys who slip into the criminal world and oftentimes creating mayhem and havoc on the law abiding members of the society.

The 2012 damning report of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) has only reinforced what many of us in the society already knew that outside of the poor  parenting skills of the guardians and parents it is the unsatisfactory leadership and management of our schools  that are major contributing factors to the failure of many of our schools.

In fact according to the NEI 86 out of 205 schools examined had a serious problem with management and leadership.  Interestingly, it is the Ministry of Education through School Boards which is responsible for appointing principals. Obviously, the Education Ministry has not been doing a good job, indeed the Education Ministry is itself failing.

In order to cauterize, correct and turn around Jamaica’s struggling education system we need to place all principals on (3 year) contracts with immediate effect.  The issue of principals working on contracts has also found support from former Education Minister Maxine Henry-Wilson who was quoted recently in the local media positing this view which I have long held.

We need to make it abundantly clear to all principals they will be held accountable for the performance of lack thereof of their respective skills.

Of course we also need to ensure that all the necessary support is in place to give all principal a chance to succeed. If at the end of three years a given school is not meeting the standard set by the Ministry of Education the principal’s contract should not be renewed.  That principal will, of course, have experienced evaluations along the way to pinpoint the areas of “deficiency” before the end of term. Furthermore, we should remove from the domain of the principal’s the 

authority to recommend the appointment of senior teachers. This process as it currently exists is not only very corrupt but also serves to de-motivate teachers which inevitable affect the teaching and learning outcome. This divisive tool serves as a discord among staff members. The Ministry of Education should have the sole authority in this process.

Secondly, for the most part our teachers do not structure their lessons to cater the top or brightest pupils. In fact this is not unique to Jamaica since most teachers do not wish to leave any student behind hence their lessons are pitched to the average or low performing students in their class. The education system does not challenging our gifted students and the society continues to fail them also. We need a paradigm shift in terms of how teachers plan their lesson. It is best to plan a lesson with the brightest pupils in mind and by so doing the teacher will be able to pull up those who are struggling.

We need to reduce the teacher pupil ratio to 1: 30 in our secondary schools and 1.35 in our primary schools. Yes, we are going to require more schools. However, this factor was always known to us. Sadly, not much has been done to address and increase school space over successive governments. Gone are the days of one teacher having 50 or more students in a class. By continuing this policy we are setting up ourselves to fail.

The use of communication technology in and of itself will not turn around our ailing education system. We must use whatever resources we have wisely. Sheer inclusion is not efficacious.

Finally, we need to get on board more of our parents on board as the third critical component of the stakeholders involved in the teaching and learning experience.

The lack of positive parenting is at the root of many of ills which now plagues the education system. The fact is we have lost an entire generation of Jamaicans.
Many of the parents in today’s society have not a clue as to what it is to be a parent. As a result a significant number of our students have no one to model their behavior. Too many of our students now look to the popular culture of the day as the only means of socialization. Additionally, it’s time we empower our parents not only in positive parenting skills, but in terms of giving them some power in determining what should happen to schools which continuously perform below set standards. In other jurisdictions there is what is called the Parent Trigger Law where parents can force the school district to close a failing school 

and therefore shift resources both human and financial to other schools which are better performing.     

At the end of the day no one wants to be associated with a failing school, whether as an administrator, student, parent or teacher. The time to act is now.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.