New head of leadership college issues challenge to educators
The new head of the National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) is insisting that the country's school leaders can play a greater role in helping Jamaicans develop a stronger sense of identity, purpose and self-determination. According to Rosemary Campbell-Stephens, this sense of self, coupled with a belief in one's capacity to make a difference, needs to be a fundamental component of the national development thrust.
While acknowledging that Jamaican educators are well known for their hard work, the veteran educator is maintaining that greater emphasis needs to be placed on reaffirming a holistic approach to education. According to her, education transmits values and develops a strong sense of cultural and racial pride.
"By focusing on developing in students an unambivalent, positive sense of their cultural, spiritual and ancestral identity, we develop in them an appreciation of who they are and their potential. So, while the current focus on students leaving school literate, numerate and IT competent is understandable, this is only what you would reasonably expect after 12 years of compulsory schooling. Jamaica cannot afford such a reductionist utilitarian view of education," noted Campbell-Stephens, who was appointed director/principal of NCEL just under four months ago.
She emphasised that this approach to education is of particular significance to Jamaica, given its colonial history and the fact that it still has remnants of the colonial mindset embedded in its systems, structures, ways of seeing and its ways of being. According to her, other countries have embraced this approach.
"All of these education systems that we and the rest of the Western world keep comparing ourselves to, whether it's Malaysia, Singapore or China, have embedded within their system a sense of national pride, with their identity indelibly wrapped around the contribution that their people have made to this world," she explained.
Campbell-Stephens, a former school inspector for the United Kingdom-based Office for Standards in Education, maintains that desirable student outcomes as well as the attainment of national development imperatives hinge on quality school leadership.
"I was an inspector in London for five years, and my definition of what constitutes outstanding school leadership has not changed during the 35 years that I have worked in education. School leaders must provide an enabling educational space, where young people can certainly acquire the skills for the workplace, but more important, develop the competences for life. That means those young people not only matriculate from school, but they graduate into junior adulthood with the values, principles, and characteristics that will navigate them through the university that is life," she asserted.
The experienced educator, who said that her dream was always to return to Jamaica, argues that if school leaders are able to instil these values, the business of teaching students foundation skills such as how to read becomes easier, as they would be empowered to appreciate the need to learn to read.
"However, if the only incentive to read or be good at math is that you go out and get a job, in the current climate that's not going to happen to the majority of youngsters. They need a better incentive to want to learn. Their teachers need a better incentive than that to teach, and not become caught in a spiral of underachievement for both teacher and student. Education has to be more than passing exams and we have to stop stifling the creativity that is in our DNA," said Campbell-Stephens.
Highlighting the fact that some schools may have become overwhelmed with the needs of the communities they serve, the new director of NCEL said this is among the concerns that the entity will be working on as it seeks to promote transformational school leadership throughout Jamaica. She said the entity will be using its leverage as the leading institution for educational leadership in Jamaica to highlight the need for courageous leaders who see leadership as a calling and not a job for life.
"We need school leaders who can disrupt the prevailing deficit narratives and who are prepared to lead schools as if their own children were on roll. There is an urgent need to address the inequalities that exist within the Jamaican school system on the basis of the socio-economic backgrounds of students, issues of race, colour and class," she added, even as she provided an insight into some of the questions that will be raised with existing and aspiring school leaders.
"Among the many questions that we will be asking in our leadership preparation programmes are, what kind of society are you trying to build and, therefore, what should the purpose of education be? What is the purpose of your school in this community, at this time, beyond the given?" she queried.
Importance of schools
For her, schools hold a unique space in the life of communities as they can be places of transformation, hope, healing, refuge, and motivation.
It's against this background that she argues that such places should be led by visionary and committed people.
"Educational leaders, at whatever level, cannot limit themselves to being managerial functionaries, maintaining the status quo by doing what they have always done. Education and educational leaders must be deliberate and intentional in its purpose of nation building," she explained.
Campbell-Stephens said NCEL has begun to identify exceptional school leaders in a bid to facilitate the sharing of good practices.
"We are putting plans in place to engage these individuals in NCEL's leadership training initiatives," she said.
For her, the local Leadership College represents a tremendously formidable brand and must be commended on its achievements to date.
"It's clearly a truly valued organisation within the educational landscape, it does good work and it has reached a stage of maturation where we can begin to be self reflective and embrace a different narrative with regards to leadership preparation. I want NCEL to be the voice of School Leadership in Jamaica and in order for us to do that we need to acknowledge and capture the narratives of some of our best school leaders, as well as challenge the moral purpose of some of our worst, we will shy away from neither proposition," she explained.
The veteran educator who is also a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Education, University College London, said she has taken note of the impact of the Jamaican teacher on public schools in London and is convinced that local school leaders also have that passion within them to transform schools that have been operating below expectations.
"Not only had I heard about Jamaican teachers, I saw Jamaican teachers fight for equity and social justice in London schools," Campbell-Stephens asserted, even as she took time to announce that the entity's inaugural conference will be held in February 2017.
The NCEL was introduced under the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP) in recognition of the need to focus on the development of school leaders. The college has introduced leadership qualification programmes for aspiring, in-service principals as well as other education professionals including bursars and education officers.