Editorial: Better returns for education dollars
The focus this week has largely been on education. Teachers all across the island have been feted and made to feel special for the contribution they continue to make to nation building. Everyone is agreed that education should be the nation's priority. However, what is not agreed is the best way of arriving at the desired results from the nation's investment in education.
As the new minister feels his way around the education portfolio, Ruel Reid has been trying to tackle important issues such as auxiliary fees, school lunches, and curriculum modernisation.
What we have not yet heard from Mr Reid as yet is how he intends to boost the capabilities of some of the nation's failing schools (primary and secondary), which have been put at an alarming 50 per cent. Can we honestly claim to be providing all our children with the opportunity to learn and excel?
Yes, there are consistently high performances recorded by high schools like Immaculate and Campion College in Greater Kingston. However, these achievements are overshadowed by the poor record of schools like Islington and Robert Lightbourne High in St Thomas, where students are failing to pass five or more subjects in the school-leaving Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), which is the key to opening doors to work and tertiary institutions.
It is a fact that schools like Immaculate and Campion have a head start because they get the cream of the crop from the GSAT pool each year. It means, therefore, that other schools, especially in poor rural communities, need greater support and ought to employ creative learning strategies to bring their charges up to speed.
Recognising the dismal performance of many of our schools, former Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites had started to put corrective measures in place targeting some schools in St Thomas. Pooling of resources, and deploying literacy and numeracy coaches were some of the initiatives suggested back then.
All indicators point to a lack of accountability and an absence of resources, financial and human, in many of these poor-performing schools. Minister Reid knows a thing or two about transforming a failing school, being one of the architects of Jamaica College's comeback under the broader revisioning of R. Danny Williams. The transformation saw millions of dollars being pumped into that institution for retrofitting, but it also benefited from the determined efforts of stakeholders such as teachers, parents, students and alumni.
Four failing schools were earmarked for turnaround in the early part of this decade, and they included Holy Trinity in Kingston, Glengoffe in St Catherine, Marcus Garvey Technical in St Ann, and Balaclava in St Elizabeth. It may be too early to tell whether the interventions have been successful.
But with 50 per cent of high schools underperforming, there is an urgent need to cauterise this situation. The glaring question we must ask is whether these are failing schools or simply poorly managed schools. For example, is it a fact that a school like Islington gets a higher proportion of students who require greater attention, would do better in smaller classes, or for whom new methods of teaching and various interventions could prove beneficial.
When we think about what is wrong with our education system, we cannot ignore the fact that 40 per cent of mathematics teachers in primary schools never even sat mathematics at the CSEC level.
It is an understatement to say the education system needs a drastic overhaul.