Devon Dick | Getting education right
Recently, the principal leadership of schools received $200 million as sponsorship to help manage secondary-school football competition. This is similar to the sponsorship for the operation of Boys and Girls' Athletics Championship (Champs). These are votes of confidence in the ability of principals to successfully manags the sports programmes of their schools.
This management ability has been on display for several decades; over 100 years at Champs. Champs is a world-class event, second to none. Furthermore, Champs has producedsome of the best sprinters the world has ever seen, such as Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell Brown, Juliet Cuthbert, Michael Frater, Grace Jackson, Dennis Johnson, Herb McKenley, Merlene Ottey, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann-Fraser Pryce, and Elaine Thompson, not to mention hurdlers such as Brigette Foster, Deon Hemmings, Omar McLeod, Melanie Walker and Danieele Williams.
Furthermore, the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) is a billion-dollar organisation. Its conferences and meetings are well-organised, and there is planned, smooth transition of leadership and recognition of outstanding leadership. Few organisations can mobilise its membership of 24,000 like the JTA. Furthermore, teachers are the owners of the leading credit union, JTA Co-op Credit Union Ltd and two more credit unions - EduCom and the TIP Friendly Society. While banks and bankers failed in the 1990s, the teachers managed their money excellently.
The point is that there is management skill, leadership expertise, institutional memory and business acumen within the teaching profession. The teachers are adept at money management and sports programmes, so why, then, are so many schools not performing at an optimum academically and producing world-class academics in many more disciplines?
The board of management should not be blamed. Under the Michael Manley government, the boards were depoliticised, and students, ancillary staff, etc, were represented on the board. This facilitated transparency, ownership of the education system by all stakeholders, and a wider skill-set pool to be used. This improved the leadership in schools.
Therefore, the possible solution to getting education right lies in giving the teaching profession more autonomy in managing the secondary-school system. Then the role of the Ministry of Education would be regulatory; ensuring that the Education Code is followed and provide funding as best as it can ,and further allowing schools to garner the requisite funds to operate a school efficiently. Finally, the ministry should standardise the content, while allowing for schools to teach some subjects that they consider important. Ruel Reid, the minister of education, established a task force that recommended that type of flexible standardisation. These changes could help.
There are some who claim that the teaching profession cannot manage because a few high schools are excluding students based on academic performance. However, one mistake does not necessarily mean that teachers and boards are incompetent. The Ministry of Education as regulator would then ensure that schools abide by the Education Code which does not allow for a student to be expelled based on an average of below 60 per cent. Furthermore, since the government pass mark is 45 per cent, no schools can exclude based on a higher grade. Suppose a school decided that students must get above 70 per cent or be expelled that or an average of under 40 per cent leads to expulsion from third form? Repeating a grade or transferring students are other options. The late Aretha Franklyn had two children before age 14, but she became one of the greatest female vocalist. Children should be given second chances and guaranteed seven years of secondary-school education, or education until 18 years old.
When they get to teachers are given more freedom to manage and offer quality, creative, moral education then the highest academic standards are possible.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.