Jaevion Nelson | The new school year and education leadership
In another two weeks or so, the news cycle will turn its attention to the education system - well, CXC passes to be exact - and then the usual, sometimes niggling issues, such as length of tunics and how fitted pants are, that we tend to complain about at the start of every school year. One hopes that there will be more discourse on the myriad challenges which continue to impact negatively on students' performance and the solutions to addressing them this year.
I am particularly interested in a focus on leadership within the education sector; leadership both at the school level and the Ministry of Education as this is critical to addressing the challenges that we must hurdle.
The National Education Inspectorate (NEI) reports have consistently shown that schools that perform poorly have, inter alia, serious leadership, management and administrative challenges. According to a baseline report published last September, 522 of the 953 (55%) of public primary and secondary schools that were assessed between September 2010 and March 2015 were rated as being ineffective. This is so because they typically do not have 'strong leadership, a clear school mission, quality teaching and learning, a safe and orderly climate, transparent and effective monitoring of students' progress, high expectations and parental involvement' (NEI, 2015).
I am aware and quite pleased that there are ongoing initiatives such as the National College for Educational Leadership, Conversations of Change and iLead which seek to equip educators with the knowledge and tools needed, engender more positive attitudes among them, and resource schools. Commendations to entities like JN Foundation, Digicel Foundation and JMMB Foundation that continue to partner with the Ministry of Education to provide the much-needed support so every student can be 'empowered to reach their fullest potential'. I'd love to learn some more about the ministry's plans to scale these initiatives and hear more about some of the successes, challenges and lessons learnt thus far.
Earlier this week, I was in the company of about 200 or more educators from across the island at the JN Foundation School Leadership Summit. Renee Rattray, the foundation's education programme director, said something rather profound which has stuck with me:
"Great schools are those which have great leadership; and at this point in our education system, we need leaders who are bold; not afraid of doing what is uncomfortable; and who are not afraid to innovate. [...] What it needs are simply leaders who are willing to go beyond what's safe and who recognise that they have to keep on doing things differently until we found the solution; until we have reached every child [in every community] and until we have created learning communities, where performance, knowledge and skills are improving and refining every day."
This certainly puts everything into perspectives. It's exactly what we need to hear right now. We need educators (not just principals) who are willing to challenge their colleagues, those in authority, whether it is the principal, board chair, board member, member of parliament, education officer or minister to ensure that, as the prime minister, Andrew Holness, said, we yield maximum results from every dollar spent on education. We need to hear more from our parents and guardians in this regard as well. We cannot afford to be silent. We can't continue to acquiesce; sitting, waiting, hoping for better to come while our children are leaving school poorly educated.
We need all hands on deck if we are going to get it right. We need people to be held accountable and for every stakeholder to accept responsibility and do everything they can to fulfil their duties/ obligation. We need strategies to improve the educational outcomes of students in rural Jamaica; strategies to improve mental health services and support to our students to address the high levels of depression, suicidal ideation, and other issues which continue to impact on learning; and we need to make more of our schools at the primary, secondary and early childhood levels to make them more accessible for children with special needs. Importantly, we need to move with much more alacrity to improve the allocation for early childhood education and focus more attention on school leadership at that level as well.
"Our children cannot wait any longer, while we continue to blame each other, the ministry; the community; parents; and the lack of resources. They can't sit around and wait while we do the same things over and over, achieving the same underwhelming results." - Renee Rattray.