School-board reform a top priority
The article 'School boards: appointment and effectiveness', by educator and Gleaner columnist Esther Tyson, published in The Gleaner on Saturday, August 22, 2015, and the editorial commentary of the following day, point to the increased recognition of the critical role that school governance plays in the development of education. Mrs Tyson and The Gleaner must be commended for continuing this important conversation.
The article has raised two major concerns - the training of school-board members and the involvement of members of parliament in the nomination of board members.
In respect of the first concern, the importance of providing every board member with the necessary orientation, training and support is fully recognised. To this end, two initiatives were undertaken. First, the handbook, All Hands On Board, was developed and published in 2012 with the assistance of the United Nations Children's Fund. The aim was to provide each board member with a hard copy, on appointment. In addition, a full virtual copy of the handbook was posted on the National Council on Education's website, which could be downloaded free of cost.
Second, over the past three years, with the support of the Education System Transformation Programme, approximately $15m was invested in training more than 3,400 school-board members representing some 779 public educational institutions across the island.
However, this face-to-face method of training, though very effective, proved too costly and was beyond the council's capacity to deliver on a sustainable basis.
Online training, a third method of orientation, is currently being explored. To this end, a full project document with justification, methodology, inputs and anticipated outputs, evaluation and costings, was recently developed and submitted to a local agency, soliciting sponsorship and support. It is hoped that such a programme would enable all board members to gain continuous access to this special training and orientation, regardless of location, time of day or frequency.
Although the National Council on Education continues to receive excellent cooperation from most members of parliament, the second area of concern, the nomination of board members, has presented a number of challenges in certain situations. As a consequence, the council has modified the nomination process by:
(i) increasing the number of stakeholders who now have the responsibility for submitting the nominations of suitable persons to be placed in a pool of volunteers. In addition to the MP, the stakeholders now include the principal, the education officer, and the National Council on Education.
(ii) ensuring that there is a high level of transparency in the selection process and that only fit and proper persons are selected, an independent review panel has been established to review all nominations. Once the review panel is satisfied that the most suitable persons have been selected, the nominees are submitted to the National Council on Education for endorsement and final submission to the minister of education for appointment.