Sunday, 24 August 2014

In Pursuit Of Successful Schools

During the tabling of the 2013-2014 Budget in Parliament the Ministry of Education was allocated $76 billion out of $602 billion to conduct its affair, including the payment of teachers’ salaries.
Over the years many individuals have argued that Jamaica has not been receiving a fair return on investments made in education. This school of thought has gained traction in many circles, especially with the most recent report from the National Education Inspectorate (NEI).
According to the 2014 National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report more than sixty per cent (60%) of the country, s primary and secondary schools are failing in their education delivery to students.
Also emerging from the same NEI report is a most disturbing fact which is threatening to become a trend. In many of the nation’s underperforming schools the report found a lack of effective and transformational leadership. This comes as no surprise, however,especially since those schools which are highly sought after by students who sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) clearly have good management and succession planning systems in place ultimately impacting the delivery of education to students.
Most educators agree that effective leadership is among the most critical characteristics of effective schools. Effective leadership includes leader qualities, such as having shared vision and goals, as well as promoting teamwork and collegiality. In many of our schools there is hardly any teamwork. A necessary culture of collegiality is all but non-existent due to the unfairness and politics of the education system.
The ethos and culture of many of our schools is one of discord, resentment and disunity. The weak management systems in place in many schools have resulted in many irregularities going unchecked.  It bears thought that even with training from the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) some individuals are just not cut out to be principals. Where a principal has lost the moral authority and respect of his/her staff it’s impossible for that principal to motivate and inspire his/her staff. As a result there is bound to be a tricking down effect ultimately impacting the delivery of education to students.
The partisan manner in which we continue to appoint members to school boards adds to the chaos and ill- will within the education system. The continuation of this practice does not benefit the schools involved or the society. This contributes greatly to the failing school status that many schools now find themselves. In all of our under-performing schools there are school boards which are also under-performing. In many instances school boards are a just an extension of the office of the principal and rubber stamp the principal’s decision. This has been going on for years and there seem to be no end in sight to discontinue this practice.
The Education Ministry urgently needs to audit the composition of all school boards and where there are issues regarding conflict of interests and incompetence of board members this must be remedied with immediate effect.  Yes, the ministry has made some attempt to streamline the composition of boards, but much more weeding needs to be done.
Middle Management
The need for more accountable and transparency within the education system is most glaring and must be addressed promptly in order to turn improve the delivery of outcome to students. Another example of the lack of transparency is the appointment of senior teachers. This practice of senior teacher appointment should not be left to the whims and fancy of principals who use this privilege and power as a means of punishment and or reward staff members while in the interim create strife and malice among staff members. There should be a zero-tolerance approach to nepotism and cronyism in the administration of education. We should not allow a few self serving school administrators to mess up our education systems and schools. Many principals use appointments to this tier of school management to silence opposition, squash creativity, and safeguard their own tenure.
As an aside, the education ministry must implement more rigid measures concerning the financial stewardship and viability of our schools. There have been too many cases of irregularities in recent times resulting in misappropriation of funds. The authorities need to issue strict guidelines to monitor such affairs. The issue of the employment of bursars in our schools continues to be a cause of grave concern.  There should be a clear separation of the functions and duties of principals from that of the bursars. In fact more frequent and unannounced external auditing should become a part of best practices to ensure accountability. 
Finland continues to be the bench mark for education reform worldwide. The Finnish approach is described by Pasi Bahlberg, a prominent educator, researcher and school improvement activist in his 2009 paper “A Short History of Educational Reform in Finland.”
Bahlberg does not support the “no excuses” argument in education debate. Proponents of the “no excuses” argument hold the view that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher students solutions. The solution for them is better teachers.
However, the opponents of the “no excuses” argument argue that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s’ learning in schools. The solution forwarded here calls for children to be lifted out of poverty by other public policies. 
Interestingly, a 2009 UNICEF commissioned report; entitled “Child Poverty and Disparities in Jamaica” revealed that between 1990 and 2005, the percentage of children below the national poverty line declined from 35% to 18%. Clearly Jamaica over the years has made tremendous strides in reducing the poverty levels, however, poverty as a factor affecting the learning outcome of our children is obviously still an issue of grave concern. It is very simple, a student cannot learn if he/she is hungry.
There is also a gendered approach to poverty as well. In many cases single parent female headed household will have less income than a household with both parents. A significant number of families in Jamaica are headed by single females. Additionally, the poverty rates among females are much higher than that of males in almost all societies. We must continue to put in place measures to empower our girls and women to elevate them out of poverty.
One of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) outlined by the United Nations is that of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Globally, one in six children under age five is underweight, and one in four is stunted. 1.2 billion People still live in extreme poverty. In spite of much effort the world is still a far way off from eradicating extreme poverty.
A positive school climate is also necessary for the overall development of our students. There needs to be more involvement of our parents in the education of their children, especially our fathers.  I can clearly remember as a boy I had to read the Star for my dad every evening. My dad was very instrumental in fostering a reading culture not only in my life but in the lives of my siblings as well.
Despite pockets of excellence within the Jamaican education system more needs to be done. The ongoing discourse on education should assist in pointing us in a direction to fix an ailing education system. This will undoubtedly call for stronger and more decisive leadership. The Ministry of Education needs to be bold in transforming the education system in a transparent manner. Jamaica’s education system is at a critical juncture and tough and unpopular decisions must be taken. In most instances the education ministry needs to revisit the processes involved in the appointment of principals and school boards. Principals and school boards must be held accountable for the failing of their schools. We must strive towards adopting and implementing best practices in regards to the education of the future generations.
The solution to Jamaica’s ailing education system rests not with knee jerking reforms; instead the solution is rooted in how we treat all stakeholders. If people are treated as human beings and their roles respected, the chances are greater that they will support reforming the education system. We need to move away from the high handed approach and employ a  consultative and engaging approach with the major stakeholders.
All children can learn and indeed all children must learn. However, wherever there is discontent and strife the learning process will be negatively impacted.
Our policy makers must work to ensure that each child’s learning outcome is fully maximized.   We cannot continue just reacting to yearly reports of failure in the education system.
“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Aristotle.

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




Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Educational Institutions Maybe Breeding Ground for Chikungunya Virus

At least 113 persons have died in the Americas, after becoming infected with the mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus, the Pan-American Health Organization reported. The figure which was released by PAHO in its latest report, includes figures as of September 12th. 55 deaths linked to the virus were recorded in Martinique, 49 in Guadeloupe, 6 in the Dominican Republic and 3 St. Maaarten, where the virus was first discovered in the Americas. 
The threat posed by Chikungunya virus to schools and other public places of gathering is real.
From all accounts the cases of domestic Chikungunya virus have been on the increase in Jamaica with almost daily confirmations from health officials. Jamaica has had 31 confirmed cases and 251 suspected cases to date. Trinidad and Tobago has had 80 confirmed cases to date. Citizens across the Caribbean region have been advised to take a number of precautionary measures to minimize the breeding areas of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which is responsible for transmitting this virus. The narrative for the most part has failed to adequately address government’s intervention strategies regarding the country’s school plants on the eve of the start of the new academic year.
For the most part our schools, both public and private, have been left idle for the greater part of the summer holidays and as such many of them have become potential breeding ground for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. The seriousness of the threat posed by Chikungunya virus to schools was recently reinforced with the confirmation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago of at least one case of Chikungunya at the Mona Campus, of the University of the West Indies. Most people with Chikungunya virus will develop some symptoms. Symptoms usually begin 3-7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito and include fever, joint pain, rash and joint swelling.
It is very clear that coordinating government ministries and departments must work together in crafting and implementing prevention strategies to minimize the threat posed by this mosquito borne virus. Yallas Primary School in St. Thomas has experienced a significant decrease in their student population with over 200 students absent complaining about flu like symptoms. Additionally, 10 of the 40 teachers, including the principal and 2 vice principals at the school are also ill suffering from flu like symptoms. To say all is not well would be an understatement regarding the chikungunya virus which is spreading like wild fire in most communities.
With the start of the 2014/2015 academic year scheduled to begin on September 1, 2014 it should be imperative on the part of the Ministry of Health in consultation with the Education Ministry to conduct an audit of all school plants to ensure that possible breeding areas are not present. Additionally, if such breeding areas are present measures should be taken to eradicate same. This action should be a part of a wider plan of action by the government as the cases of Chikungunya virus have now been confirmed in at least seven parishes, namely, St. Catherine, St. Thomas, Kingston, St. Andrew, St. Mary, Portland and St. Ann. Our students and teachers, as well as, other stakeholders in the education system will likely be put at risk if the government does not take a proactive approach in eliminating breeding grounds for mosquitoes from in and around our educational institutions. There is also an urgent need for the Jamaican government to increase their public education campaign intervention in order to heighten the public’s awareness of the devastating impact of chikungunya virus. An ounce of prevention is always better than cure.

Wayne Campbell

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Poem-The Supreme Being

My heart is exceedingly overjoyed
Your mercy oh Lord expands the universe
You have healed my wounds
And repaired my broken heart
Your name is worthy to be praised
From the East to the West,
From the North to the South
You alone oh Lord are worthy!

© 2014

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Mental Health Is Everyone,s Business

As someone who lost a cousin due to a mental disorder I know of some of the pain that family and

friends experience daily.The issue of mental issue is often downplayed in many societies and in many

families. Mental disorder can affect an individual regardless of sex, age, colour, religion.

Additionally, the sigma attached to mental health makes it more challenging for those who struggle

with this type of illness to seek help. Depression is only one form of mental disorder which severely

affects the functioning of the brain.We need to be more sensitive to those who struggle with mental

health issues. Reach out today to someone affected and impacted by this disease in an effort to restore

hope to that person. Mental health should be everyone's business.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Right to Worship-Pray for the Christians in Iraq

Matthew 5:10-12

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven...." 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Protecting Religious Rights and Freedoms

The international community is once again being called upon to act urgently in preventing the onslaught of scores of Iraqis by the militant group ISIS. The Islamic group, ISIS- which stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continues to capture vast areas of territory in their quest to extent and strengthen the creation of a caliphate designed to be the hub of a purely Islamic state. The Sunni backed militant group has been most brutal. They have been moving across the landscape of Syria and Iraqi rapidly capturing huge land holdings in a killing spree. ISIS have been beheading and torturing minority groups such as Christians and the Yazidis people of Iraq.
This has resulted in a humanitarian crisis as many of these persecuted people have had to flee their homes and are now facing starvation and imminent death. Sadly, the Iraqi army which the United States of America trained has proven useless in providing protect for these people.
According to the United Nations, some 200,000 minority Iraqis have been displaced since ISIS has started their journey. These minority groups are being hunted down and murdered if they do not convert to Islam.
It appears that for ISIS it’s a simply case of converting to Islam or Die. Many historical Christian sites including churches have been burnt to the ground in recent times by the militant group ISIS. ISIS has taken control of Christian and Yzedi towns in Mosul and on the Nineveh plains.
The latest development is most disturbing and amounts to genocide. The international community must act at once and must act in a decisive manner to protect the rights and religious freedoms of these minority groups.
The stability of the Middle East and indeed humanity is at risk if the world powers failed to act now to curtail the brutal regime of ISIS.

Wayne Campbell

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Jamaica,s Independence Day

Fifty two years ago Jamaica became an independent and proud nation. Despite the challenges God has been good. Let us celebrate and commemorate this milestone in our country,s journey. Happy Independence Day.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Jeremiah 32:17

Jeremiah 32:17 Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Book of Psalms

What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? Psalm 116:12

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Black Pride

Marcus Mosiah Garvey, "The black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness".