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 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.