Wed | Jul 18, 2018

Ronald Thwaites | Break up this school fight

Published:Monday | March 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The loss of virtually a week of school on the eve of examination time was totally avoidable and the responsibility has to lie with the Government.

The wage cycle, which is still unsettled, dates back to April last year. Do you expect anyone to believe that it would have been beyond us to have anticipated this date and begun negotiations beforehand, or at least to have accelerated the pace and texture of the bargaining during the whole of 2017 so as to have cobbled a settlement before now?

When you drive people to the wall because of your own arrogance, they become restless and desperate and will act accordingly. This is what led to the incalculable waste of a scarce week of instruction, the consequences of which will dribble into personal and national lives for a long time.

Also, it sets everybody back when a minister and his bureaucrats forfeit their credibility by insisting that schools remain open and students should attend, sans teachers, when everyone knew there would be no teaching and learning during the protest.

So it now appears that some kind of revised offer has been made to the teachers, most probably without any quid pro quo of accountability, which, if the teachers accept, they will return to their classrooms hardly satisfied, still feeling used and abused.

 

ONE SIZE FITS ALL CANNOT WORK

 

While it appears convenient to negotiate with all public servants as if they were homogeneous, this really does not work. Teachers, for example, merit particular consideration and one percentage will not fit all.

The reason why the national interest and the teachers were tied out last week was because if they were to be afforded the higher allowance grade they requested, a commensurate benefit would have to apply to all other categories. This makes no sense.

We continue to say we agree with the International Monetary Fund, and other sensible people, that pay should be related to performance but do nothing to implement this. As predicted, we are now concluding an expensive, sour-tasting four-year pay arrangement without any commitment to an improvement in productivity.

And yes, this is what the majority of leaders of the now supine Confederation of Trade Unions, once the originators of nationalism, agreed to, despite the medium- and longer-term disadvantage to their membership, locking them into a four-year spiral of reducing spending power.

Last week, I received a letter from a student who will soon graduate with a bachelor's degree. There were more than 20 grammatical and spelling mistakes in three short paragraphs. My experience is that this is not unusual. On enquiry, I was told that the institution she attends does not grade for standard Jamaican English but "only for content" and further, that the requirement for matriculation into that accredited tertiary college is either a bare pass in English or mathematics - not both. Why? Because if they insisted upon the traditional mix and standard of passes, too many applicants would be excluded and the financial viability of the institute threatened.

All this happens in our haste to improve the numbers registering in tertiary institutions and because the system has not paid sufficient attention to doing it right the first time. The University Council of Jamaica has to be more careful to require the highest standards of instruction for the institutions and programmes which they accredit while attempting to broaden access to post-secondary education and training.

The disappointment follows when many of the relatively few of the school-leaving cohort who 'pass subjects', armed with their certificates, apply for employment and are found deficient. That is happening right now. A serious inquiry needs to be done urgently to find out if the standards of our examinations, both local and external, are high enough to meet the requirements of the 'fourth industrial revolution' about which Government often speaks.

 

RESOURCES NOT MATCHING COMMITMENT

 

Appropriately, all presentations in the Budget Debate so far have stressed the importance of human development. As will continue to be argued in this space, the resources, both financial and intellectual, do not match the verbal commitment. This contradiction should be high on the agenda of the Vale Royal Talks this week. Hardly anything matters more - whether relating to crime control, GDP growth from which not only the 'big man dem' benefit, or personal satisfaction.

Towards this cause, the launch last week of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning at the University of the West Indies is to be celebrated. The Ministry of Education do their best to include forward planning and some evaluation into the all-absorbing task of keeping the schools and systems going. But it is very difficult to envisage the picture of total sector transformation while trying to manage the juggernaut - especially when so much is at stake politically.

Adding a passionate, clinical, practical eye on a sustained basis to the transformation process in education and training ought to help us to move beyond policy based on habit, ennui, personal biases or political expediency.

I hope the centre does not become an academic enclave but a restless place where the university, acting as the thinking arm of the State, troubles the waters of our complacency.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.