Thursday, 29 January 2015

Holistic Approach to Education

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”-Aristotle
The debate over whether or not class size matters has been ongoing for decades in education circles. While the jury is still out regarding the reliability and authenticity of research on the importance of class size to students’ outcome, we can all agree that there are many other factors of equal importance to students’ achievement rather than class size. Research done on the issue of class size by Northwestern University Associate Professor Diane Whitmore Schanenbach and published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder makes it extremely clear that class size matters regarding students outcome. Professor Schanenbach recommendations are most interesting and informative and states that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short term, but will harm their human capital formation.  
Human capital formation is the process of transforming the people in a country into workers who are capable of producing goods and services. During this process, relatively unskilled individuals are given the tools they need to contribute to the economy. It is critical to the long-term economic growth of a country, and provides the same benefits as new technologies or more efficient industrial equipment. Jamaica is at a critical juncture in the nation’s development and we must ensure that we do all within our power to equip all our students with the requisite skills set to become meaningful members of the productive sector. As a society we must ensure that no student is left behind. The Ministry of Education “Every Child Can Learn, Every Child Must Learn” is most apt in this regard.
However, should we fail as a society to make the necessary investment in our youth population then the future is indeed bleak? It is clear that the government must do more for the youth population. Disturbingly, half of all Jamaicans between the ages 14 to 25 see no future in Jamaica. This troubling statistics emerged recently from a study commissioned by the Center for Leadership and Governance at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The study revealed that almost fifty per cent of Jamaica’s youth population would be willing to renounce their citizenship. This is not very comforting and we must as society ensure that our best and brightest minds stay in Jamaica in order for us to have sustainable development.  Jamaica’s 20/30 Vision statement has not connected with the youth population and this speaks volume regarding the despair and sense of hopelessness of the youth population. The vision of making Jamaica the place to live, work, raise families and do business has no bearing on our youth population and this should be very troubling not only to the government but also to the wider society because of the serious implications it has for the country.  Notwithstanding that Professor Schanenbach is of the opinion that students learn much in small classes which clearly work in the favour of those students who require individual attention or those who are probably a bit shy and will not participate in a larger class.
Professor Schanenbach argues that mechanisms at work linking small classes to higher achievement include a mixture of higher levels of student engagement, increased time on task and the opportunity small class provide for high quality teachers to better tailor their instruction to students in the class.
Our students are learning at different levels and in many cases there are students who require individual attention in order to master the content being taught. However, with large class sizes this individual attention from the teacher is not possible. The teacher/pupil ratio at the secondary level of Jamaica’s education system is 1:35. However, this ratio is still too high especially in non-traditional high schools where the tendency is to have a wider pool of intelligence levels with various learning challenges in literacy and numeracy reside.   
However, there are opponents of the smaller class size debate and as such they argue that class size is not the most important factor in determining student performance. Those who support larger class size also support having fewer teachers which in turn will save money since less money will be used for education in general. They postulate that other factors which contribute immensely to student’s performance include parental involvement of students, equity in resource allocation, curriculum being used, and the language of instruction, societal/cultural factors, and remuneration of teachers.  
However, in the Jamaican context parental involvement is woefully lacking. It can be argued that too many of our parents have abandoned and abdicated their primary role and responsibility towards their children.  Our children lack adequate supervision at home; this is fuelled by the fact that the Jamaican society has an overwhelming majority of single parent families. In most instances, these family structures are headed by the female who has to juggle to earn a living while trying to care for her children. This juggling act means that one part of the equation will fail and sadly in most instances it is the children who suffer during this juggling act. This is supported by a recent study done by the National Family Planning Board of Jamaica which states that the Jamaican family is deteriorating significantly and is a cause of great concern. According to chair person of the NFPB, Sandra Knight “we are looking at the discombobulation of the Jamaican family and it concerns us deeply”. This statement speaks volume of the wholesale break down of the Jamaican family and from all accounts the worst is yet to come.  Students who have the full support of their parents tend to outperform their counterparts who have little or no parental involvement in their lives.   
Another important element contributing to students’ outcome is that of remuneration of teachers. As the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) gets itself ready to negotiate on behalf of the nations teachers for improve salaries and benefits the teachers union should be mindful of the fact that apart from monetary gains which is very important reduction in class sizes should also be on the bargaining table.  If our educators are constantly thinking about their dire financial situation then clearly this will have an impact on how effective they are.
Too many of our students are being left behind because of the teacher/pupil ratio is just not practical and manageable to achieve the best outcome for our students.
It can be argued that there is a co-relation between higher salaries of teachers and improve students outcomes. It’s logical to conclude that teachers will be more motivated and committed to their tasks in circumstances where they are receiving a living wage.
While we continue to make strides in our literacy levels the fact is too many of our students are leaving school as functional illiterates. The ability to recognize words is clearly not the same as being literate. A significant number of our students especially at the non-traditional high schools continue to have serious reading issues. Our policy makers need to redouble their efforts in addressing this issue. The Education Ministry needs to engage more with those teachers in such schools and give more support wherever it’s needed.  
The language of instruction is also an important part regarding student outcome. While Standard English is the language of instruction in the classroom too many of our students have a difficult time understanding this. For the most part our students come to school from a background where the dialect is spoken and readily understood. We then expect them to be able to code switch at school which is proving a daunting task especially for but not confined to those students from a working class background. There is a tendency for students from upper class families to do better than students from the lower socio-economic background. This is supported by Basil Bernstein. Basil Bernstein’s Sociolinguistic Theory of Language code speaks to the relationship between language use and social class. Bernstein argues that middle class students have a clear advantage over students from lower socio-economic class. According to Bernstein, “ forms of spoken language in the process of their learning initiate, generalize and reinforce special types of relationship with the environment and thus create for the individual particular forms of significance”.  
It is clear that many variables affect students’ outcome. It is also clear that much work is required of all of us as stakeholders in order to give to afford our students the best possible chance at succeeding in this competitive world. Our schools must become areas conducive to the teaching and learning process. It is obvious as well that our schools in general require better school managers in order to ensure that our students achieve more. The relative weak top and middle management in a significant number of our schools continue to hamper student outcome. The government also has a major role as well in terms of allocating resources in order to build more schools in areas of high population density so as to reduce class size.  Common sense supported by data lead us to conclude that students will continue to perform better at those schools where all the stakeholders are on one accord. In the final analysis class size does matter regarding students outcome due largely in part to the imbalances or short comings of all the other variables impacting student outcome.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”-Barack Obama
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Empowerment Of Females

Twitter users in Saudi Arabia have been criticizing Michelle Obama for not covering her hair when she met the new king of Saudi Arabia on a recent visit. These people need to get a life and allow their women the freedom to choose. For example, women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, how backward is this in the twenty first century where there should be no limit as to what a woman can do. That is where their criticism should be focused on. More power to the US First Lady!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Death and Burial of Jamaica,s Middle Class

The on going debate regarding the existence of a middle class in Jamaica should be taken very seriously since it has implications for all of us. The definition for middle class varies from country to country because differences in purchasing power between countries and currencies make it difficult to come up with a common definition for what makes someone middle class. For example, it takes $115 Jamaican dollars to purchase $1US. Recently, I had to fill a prescription at the local pharmacy. When I handed the pharmacist the prescription she went on her computer to check the cost of the items. There were five items. I told her I would not be buying the nasal spray. In a few minutes time she returned to inform that the cost for the first three items was $5,100, the cost for the fourth item alone was just over $5,000. It was a humbling and embarrassing moment. Here I am, a college educated government worker and I was unable to fill my prescription. The situation has been made worst because of the five years wage freeze government workers have had to endure. One can only imagine what other Jamaicans are experiencing. What about that pensioner or the single mother who has three children? I have heard of cases where people have had to make a decision to skip one meal daily simply because they cannot afford to eat three meals per day. There was a time when all government workers, teachers, nurses, firemen, police etc. where clearly middle class Jamaicans, however, this is not so anymore.
According to a study by the American Counselling Association and the Association of Adventist Family Life Professional Dr Alanzo Smith, 1.1 million Jamaicans are living below the poverty line. The reasons given by Dr. Smith include the breakdown of the family unit, lack of education and “economics.” Jamaica's population is just under 3 million so do the Math.
One has to pray that one does not get sick in the middle of the month since by that time one's salary would have been depleted. Many of us have had to be turning to our savings if one existence to supplement one's salary. No wonder a recent study commissioned by the Center for Leadership and Governance at University of the West Indies (UWI) revealed that 50 per cent of all Jamaicans between 14-25 years would give up their citizenship for a better economic future. This is very troubling also because a country cannot have sustainable development if the youth population does not see a future.
Housing, specifically affordable housing is another indicator of whether a middle class exists in a society. Approximately, a third of all Jamaicans are living as squatters. The average working class family is unable to purchase a home. As a result many Jamaicans move onto government owned lands and construct homes in a desperate bid to have shelter. This cannot be sustained, however, what choice do they have?
Having said so, is there a middle class in Jamaica?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Did You Know?

Did you know that Jamaica at one time had twenty (22) parishes? 
Jamaica now has 14 parishes; but at one point we had as many as 22 parishes. In 1664, nine years after the English formally took control of Jamaica, there were 7 parishes: Clarendon, Port Royal, St Andrew, St David, St John, St Catherine and St Thomas. This increased to:
  • 12 in 1670 with the addition of five parishes: St Ann, St Elizabeth, St George, St James and St Mary;
  • 13 in 1673 with the addition of Vere;
  • 15 in 1675 with the addition of St Dorothy and St Thomas-in-the-Vale;
  • 16 in 1693 with the addition of Kingston;
  • 17 in 1703 with the addition of Westmoreland;
  • 19 in 1723 with the addition of Hanover and Portland;
  • 20 in 1770 with the addition of Trelawny;
  • 21 in 1814 with the addition of Manchester; and
  • 22 in 1844 with the final addition: Metcalfe.
On April 23, 1867, “as part of the reformation scheme of Sir John Peter Grant” the law was passed for the reduction of the number of parishes from 22 to 14: Kingston was increased by absorbing a part of the parishes of St. Andrew and Port Royal, and the whole town of Port Royal. St. Andrew took the remaining part of the parish of Port Royal. St. David was merged into St. Thomas-in-the-East. St. George merged with Portland. Metcalfe was merged into St. Mary. St Thomas-in-the-Vale, St. John and St. Dorothy were all merged into St. Catherine. Vere merged with Clarendon.
In 1872 Kingston became the capital of Jamaica. It acquired this position due to its function as a major centre for commerce and communication.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Hebrews Chapter 13:1-3

Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

We Are Charlie Hebdo

The international community and the free world stand in solidarity with the people and government of France in light of the brutal attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in which twelve individuals were killed, including cartoonists and police. This cowardly assault was clearly an attack on the ideals of democracy and freedom of speech and will not succeed. The pen is mightier than the sword. We will not be silence! JE SUIS CHARLIE.   

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Most Profound Food For Thought

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter-Martin Luther King, Jnr.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Psalm 25:7

Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.

Monday, 5 January 2015

JPS Forcing Customers' Hand

One of the basic tenets of consumerism is the right of the consumer to choose. However, we live in a society where this basic right is fast disappearing. The Jamaican consumer's right to choose is all but gone and this is compounded by the fact that there are too many monopolies offering goods and essential services in the society. It can be argued that, wherever a multitude of monopolies exist, the rights of the consumer are trampled on. This ought not to be.
Let us examine for a moment the Jamaica Public Service Company's (JPS) new Energy Guard anti-theft system. It is currently being implemented in communities the company considers high risk for electricity theft. With this new system, individual meters are removed from the premises of the owner and placed on the outside which, according to the company, will provide easier access to facilitate meter reading, but most importantly, this system will end electricity theft.
However, was any consideration given to those JPS consumers who have had a history of paying their bills on time, as well as those consumers who have no history of electricity theft? Why is it that such consumers could not have been given a choice of whether or not they wish to become a part of the Energy Guard system? Or is a matter that no choice is built into this new system?
This JPS policy is based on the assumption that all consumers in high-risk areas are stealing or likely to steal electricity. This supposition is unfair and discriminatory since only specific geographical areas are being targeted.
No one is disputing that there are some individuals who steal electricity. What is debatable is the manner in which JPS has gone about implementing this new policy without any consultation.
Where else in the world could such a high-handed approach be tolerated? Indeed, electricity theft is a major problem for the light and power company, but I do believe that some level of choice should be in the discourse. Ironically, in some of the communities where JPS considers low or no risk for electricity theft, they would be shocked to discover this is not so.
Why is it that Jamaica's monopoly companies must always force the hands of their customers by not offering them a choice in matters that will directly impact them?
To add to the already sad state of affairs, in instances where a premises has more than one meter, customers are being told to get a private electrician to install additional 'potheads' to facilitate each meter having a separate line. Why should the consumer be asked to foot this added cost?
After the meters have been removed from the premises of the owner, a plastic covering should be placed over the space which held the meter. However, in some instances, this is not being done because the contractors do not have adequate supplies. This practice is very dangerous and most unacceptable and JPS needs to address this issue most urgently.
As a footnote, the light post with number 083283 appears to be in need of repair, maybe even replaced.
Wayne Campbell

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Psalm 19:14 King James Version (KJV)

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Poem-Of Hope And Spirit

Twelve months, three hundred and sixty days later.
Reminiscing on past successes and failures  
Sitting in my recliner, sipping champagne with jerk chicken
Thank You God for being so merciful despite my sinful nature.
Looking ahead to the unknown
Pondering what's in store for me this year
A year full of promise
Heighten expectancy amidst possible challenges
Where did the time go?
Lets do this again twelve months from now.
Happy New Year!

© January 2015 Wayne Campbell

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year

Lamentations 3:22-23 New International Version (NIV)
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.