Wednesday, 31 May 2017

School Leadership Lacking

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”- Warrren Bennis
Leadership is not easy. It is often said, uneasy lies the head which wears the crown. After years of poor and ineffective school leadership The National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) was established in 2011 to develop excellence in educational leadership and school management. The lack of accountability and transparency at the level of principalship at both the primary and secondary levels is quite appalling and urgently needs attention. Undoubtedly, there are some principals and schools which are doing exceptional well in meeting the needs of their students. The focus and conversation however, should shift to those who are not despite the support and encouragement from stakeholders. In most instances principals across the educational landscape are more than qualified for their positions, however, holding the requisite qualification and the ability to effectively manage a school are worlds apart. In order to improve student outcome and to maximize the true potential of all students it takes more than having letters behind one’s name. A critical area where a lot of principals score poorly in is that of enabling an environment for effective teaching and learning. Too many of our schools are underperforming due primarily to the poor leadership in place. The 21st century education system must be meaningful for all learners. The weak structure of some School Boards and the manner in which School Board members are appointed leaves much to be desired.  Unfortunately, in some schools, the Office of the principal and the Office of the School Board are blurred and compromised giving principals a free reign to do as they wish. The 2004 Task Force on Educational Reform serves as a platform to the modernization and transformation of Jamaica’s education system.  As a result of the Task Force the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP) was birthed to improve standards of performance and greater accountability of all levels of the education system. Regrettably, some of whom have the title of principal are shallow, void of integrity, vindictive and unworthy of such positions. Those principals who fall in such a category should be grateful daily to their luck and connections, since many are indebted to third parties whether political, religious or civic associations for the position they hold. In the interim, many students and teachers are held to ransom in the power play which takes place in many of our schools. Many excellent teachers become frustrated and this frustration as well as the high levels of stress is played out many times in the classroom while the teaching and learning experience is hijacked on an altar of cronyism and favoritism. Our children deserve better! Too many upstanding teachers leave the classroom yearly, abandoning their dreams and aspirations for the sake of peace of mind. Additionally, some principals who are aware of their limitations have purposefully ventured into building divisions among staff. Unfortunately, there are those in positions of principals who instead of building bridges in order to unite their staff in a spirit of collegiality choose to sow chords of mischief and hatred. It is unfortunate that the process of engagement between principals and staff in a number of schools is non-existent. As a result many teachers are unaware of the School Improvement Plan (SIP) which outlines the expectation of individual teachers during the academic year. It bears thought that as a society we need to shun such individuals from all areas of leadership.
What is Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy is also known as personal efficacy, and is defined as the confidence in one’s own skill sets to accomplish intended goals and assigned targets. Self-efficacy is situation specific and varies regarding the events in our lives.  A principal’s sense of efficacy is an assessment of his or her capabilities to structure a specific course of action to improve student outcomes. According to Tschannen-Moran & Gareis (2004 the major influences on efficacy are assumed to be attributional analysis and interpretation of the four sources of efficacy information: mastery experience, physiological arousal, vicarious experience and verbal persuasion.  It is quite likely and acceptable that a principal might feel secured in one area of leadership and rather inadequate in another area. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some principals are intrinsically motivated while others are not. Success in leadership is not a sprint but a marathon. The weak principal today may become the transformational leader within a few years. This cuts across the board for all who are in leadership positions.    
Forging Ahead Towards a 21st Century Education System
In this age of accountability and transparency it is critical that we fast tracked the transformation process in order to have a 21st century education system. The society needs to demand more from our school leadership. It cannot be that principals with a track record of underachievement are given extension after reaching the retirement age. This is a bad and retrograde practice which has no place in the 21st century. The Education Act does not guarantee any extension to any principal upon retirement. Too many in the society who should know better are complicit in supporting ineffective school leadership. A rigorous discourse on way forward regarding how to improve the culture in many of our schools, as well as, in building professional trust is needed.  For educator, Regie Routman professional trust means that teachers and leaders at a school can depend on each other’ that everyone on staff is fully committed to all students, and that ongoing, high-quality professional learning ensures that all teachers do an effective job”. As a nation we need to be adamant in our resolve that such principals are retired in the interest of the nation’s children and the country at large. We need to redouble our efforts in bringing back professionalism and honour to the position of principalship. Sadly, there are many principals whose words are meaningless and they have become a laughing stock among their peers.  There are many principals who are not respected by their staff, parents and students, due mainly to their unprofessional and unethical ways. The learner of the 21st century requires leadership which is both transformational and instructional. The fruits of a transformed education system hinge itself on the quality of leadership in place in our schools.  We need to recapture the mould of principals of yesteryear who were role models and mentors for both their students and the wider community. It can and must be done as education is the only way Jamaica will pull herself up and out of the crisis the society is grappling with. We should be reminded that untruths and fear are not qualities that build a school, nor fosters a culture of excellence. Distressingly, too many principals lack the motivation to inspire their staff; too many see their role primarily as perfunctory, disregarding the need to build relationships with stakeholders to enhance the teaching and learning journey. School leadership is not a responsibility for those who do not have a love for teachers. The time is now for the society to reclaim their collective voices in denouncing ineffective school leadership to safeguard the well being of the nation’s most vulnerable asset, that of our children.  Educational equity is a right not a privilege!
In the words of Robert John Meehan educational leadership is about letting go the urge to control others and holding on to the purpose of setting them free.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Friday, 5 May 2017

France Presidential Elections 2017

“Ideas govern the world, or throw it into chaos”- Auguste Comte
The global tide of populism sweeping across much of Europe and to a lesser extent the North American continent continues to reverberate throughout much of the capitals of Europe. The centrist and relatively newcomer to French politics, Emmanuel Macron, and the far-right and rather polarizing politician Marine Le Pen have both have made it through to the run-off election to choose the next president of France. Le Pen is controversial for many reasons. Le Pen’s core principles are steeped in an anti-globalization, anti-immigration and anti-European Union mould and have found favour among a significant percentage of the French electorate. It can be argued that many French citizens are disillusioned by the traditional political parties and are quite fearful of the future. The on-going political instability in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria, which has subsequently led to a refugee crisis, have provided much fuel to the notion of nationalism and have nurtured a culture of France for the French. The recent attacks on Paris, as well as, on other European capitals by terrorist groups have also led to a growing spirit of nationalism throughout France and Europe. Disturbingly, the uncertainty of the future has given rise in incidents of anti-Semitism not only in France but across much of Europe. This trend has become rather unsettling for the Jewish communities in these countries, especially for France which has the largest Jewish population in Europe at around 500, 000 strong.   
Origin of the European Union
The European states began to unite in the 1950’s after catastrophic world wars. The Schuman Declaration led to the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) of 1952 was the first effort to coalesce European states in the 20th century. The European Union, (EU) came into being after the Maastricht treaty, formally, the Treaty on European Union or (TEU), was signed on February 7, 1992 by members of the European Community in Maastricht, Netherlands. The European Union (EU) is a unified trade and monetary body of 28 member countries, this number will reduce to 27, after the United Kingdom leaves the EU following Brexit.  It is noteworthy that the EU eliminates all border control between members, as the Schengen Area guarantees free movement to those legally residing within its border.  The people of France are at a crossroads. The paths are clear, retreat and give into fear and insularity or pursue the route of engagement and a having a meaningful global presence.
Gender and Politics
France has never had a female president. Some posited the view that Le Pen’s rise in the National Front Party is as a consequence of her father, the founder of the National Front party not having a male heir. Le Pen by not having a brother benefited from this fact, nonetheless the world patiently awaits the results to see whether or not she will create history. Is Le Pen gender a liability in this presidential election? The culture in France is very much chauvinistic and driven by a sense of phallocentrism much more than other countries within the European Union. France undoubtedly has a hyper- masculine culture steeped in patriarchy. The ego of French male is not easily soothed and this unquestionably will prevent a significant number of men from giving support for a female to become head of the State. France still has a very far way to go in breaking the class ceiling. Interestingly, all the leaders of the main political parties in France have urged their supporters to back Macron. In fact, former President Barack Obama has also given his support to Macron to succeed Francois Hollande as the next president of France. In spite of the comparison to Joan of Arc, Le Pen’s path to the presidency will take a miracle for her to overcome and defeat Macron on May, 7, 2017.  The National Party has had a history of anti-Semitism and racism and it will be quite interesting how the intersection of race and religion affects the outcome of the presidential elections.
On the issue of gender equality, it must be noted that France adopted gender equality rather late compared to their European counterparts. Additionally, France’s strong religious association to Roman Catholicism and the country’s focus on the family instead of the individual are factors which have contributed greatly to gender inequality. Female participation in politics still remains as a major concern with regards to gender equality. According to data supplied by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), France has a 25.8 per cent female participation in politics. Despite having had a female Prime Minister in Edith Cresson, women have long been underrepresented in French politics. French women became eligible to vote since 1944. On June 28, 1999, articles 3 &4 of the French constitution were amended. The law promoting equal access to men and women to elected office was adopted on June 6, 2000.  It is rather ironic and unsettling that France lags behind their European neighbours regarding gender equality, despite having given the world feminist icons such as Simone de Beauvoir. The French culture continues to resonate with a high degree of sexism and will not change anytime soon.  “Men are viewed here as a social group active in changing or maintaining the social inferiorisation of women, rather from the standpoint of recomposed masculine identity or forms of masculinity”. (Devreux 2007). 
France’s political establishment has been hit hard by Macron, who is often compared to Obama and Trudeau for his youthfulness. Macron’s meteoric rise has been rather amazing and time will tell if he becomes the next president. His political party En Marche, formed last year has generated a movement like culture which many believe will usher him into the Elysee Palace come May 7.  There has been a rejection of traditional old style politics and this dismissal will be played out in many more elections to come, many more surprise presidents and prime ministers are lurking in the wings. The world saw last year Donald Trump, a rather unconventional businessman turned politician becoming president of the United States of America. While the world anxiously awaits the outcome of the French presidential elections we are told not to wager on a female presidency. The French society is divided and as such the next president of France will need to embark on a programme to try and to mend fences and bridge the political divide after a bruising election. The way forward for France must include a closer interpretation and implementation of Sustainable Development Goal number 5 which speak to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.  Marine Le Pen would have inspired an entire generation of girls not only in France but also the international community. One’s gender should never be a barrier to any achievement especially in 2017. In the words of the French philosopher Voltaire, the true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.
Au Revoir!
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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