Editorial | Towards education based on values
Here is a startling statistic about what happens when a teacher enters a Jamaican classroom for, say, a 40-minute session with students. On average, he or she spends up to 16 minutes attempting to establish order, maintain silence, enforce discipline, or attend to personal and administrative concerns.
That's 40 per cent of the lesson time.
Compare that to Singapore, where effective teaching and learning actually take place in 90 per cent of class time.
It should be no surprise that outcomes suffer in Jamaican schools, and frustration levels among teachers and students are very high.
But the problems affecting educational outcomes don't end there. Bear in mind, too, that half of our students are, or are in need of being, registered with PATH because of poverty. Additionally, absenteeism, which recently drew the concern of the Jamaica Teachers' Association, has escalated to between a fifth and a quarter of school enrolment, while up to half of students fail to do, or complete, home assignments.
Put differently, the inadequacy of early socialisation at home and in communities leaves tens of thousands of young people lacking appropriate values and attitudes for school life and to absorb education. Our schools, in short, have become the principal institutions of wholesome value transmission - a task for which they are unprepared. The uncomfortable fact is that the social deficit of even a few students often ambushes overall progress in schools.
In the circumstances, it is commendable that a slowly increasing number of students achieve good academic results, capable of matriculating to higher education, or to the world of work and with the character to be good citizens.
There is an urgent need for the infusion of social and moral education to help correct the maladies cramping the system. Religious education tends to be dogmatic or merely descriptive of history; social studies offer little depth; and civics has been reintroduced only recently, and fitfully, in some grades. Also, the infusion of positive values and attitudes into the entire curriculum ought to be tried across the system, with special emphasis at the early childhood level.
A look at the budget for the Ministry of Education for the upcoming financial year reveals scant attention to the gravity of these financial and social impediments to effective education. Apart from a measly $17 million allocation to respond to crisis situations caused by poor behaviour, the rest of the $96 billion implicitly assumes that parents will provide well-adjusted and work-ready pupils to be taught and that teachers already have appropriate resources to effectively deal with the anti-social traits of those assigned to them.
Both assumptions are palpably untrue.
USE PROVEN METHODS
The antidote lies in the scaling up of several measures, already tried and proven worthwhile, to rapidly and cost-effectively alter negative student conduct.
The Early Stimulation Project, which combines home visits, parental mentoring, nutrition counselling, diagnoses, and behaviour coaching for preschoolers and their families is a good example. Despite money in last year's budget, no real progress has been made.
Also effective are the Dream-a-World strategy and the Change from Within Movement. The former, carried out by UWI's Carimensa, captures the interest of the most aberrant children and their teachers at the critical primary level through the use of art, drama and storytelling. Change from Within encourages affirmation and inclusion in school operation, emphasising personal responsibility.
Some of the more than 2,000 excess teaching staff throughout the school system should be retrained and given flexible contracts to serve as social workers to forge and maintain positive relationships among school, home, and community.
There is no point in shoring up expensive traditional educational structures that do not address the rot evident in some schools, at transportation centres, entertainment venues, and the virtual spaces that young people frequent.
A dialogue on restoring order, personal discipline, and fostering positive character traits in school is essential to the working of all of the other commendable elements of Jamaica's pursuit to transformed education.