Yvette Reid, Contributor
Nearly every report on the public-education sector in the last five years has painted a picture of gloom; but none so far has captured the deep disappointment, frustration, apathy and fleeting pleasure that teachers experience daily.
The perspective I offer is that of a teacher in the upgraded high-school sector.
Upgraded high schools represent the largest high-school sector. Of 21,560 students sitting exit examination in 2009, 18 per cent secured passing grades in English language, while 6.5 per cent secured passing grades in mathematics. The cohort figure above omits the larger number of students who had not been recommended to sit the examination.
Elaine Foster-Allen, former chief inspector at National Education Inspectorate, has confirmed that thousands of students are failing because of poor teaching and substandard learning conditions, factors which contribute to dismal performance in all forms of assessment, from Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination (CSEC).
That thousands of students are under performing and failing is without challenge. How effectively the teaching supports the students' learning is the fulcrum of the challenge with which teachers are confronted and are very often stumped.
There is a measure of responsibility that we accept as being primary providers of learning. But did we knowingly and/or intentionally 'get education wrong', and if we did, do we have the wherewithal to get it right or the fortitude to walk away from this profession?
It takes five years for this infamy to develop, and we have watched it grow, students who steadily fall behind or perhaps didn't get off, and teachers' mounting apathy and despair.
'If they (students) don't care to learn, why should I?' This, perhaps, is the conscience clause that could make the monthly reward less awkward.
If caring is a factor, why don't the children care to learn? Do teachers care? What should that caring do?
On a daily basis, 20 per cent of the students we teach demonstrate the kind of behaviour response that can be interpreted as wanting to and demonstrate learned skills and content.
For the others, teaching is evidenced by transcribed evidence from the board. Where this does not happen, the perception is formed that no teaching was done. The reciprocal response of learning is not accounted for, and assessment exercises confirm the disconnect.
But if teachers care, what should that caring do? It should allow us to plan more thoroughly, deliver more efficiently and effectively, and be prepared to spend more time to accomplish more for and with our students.
It is because we do why the percentage pass, however feeble, is recorded. Teachers have given up their evenings and weekends to drill, drudge, cajole and engage the willing minds to success, because we care.
It is because we care why, when and where we see a faint and feeble spark, we vigorously agitate to start a flame.
Yet, somewhere between the desire to teach and the apathy that defeats, there is an open door though which an 800-pound, overly active gorilla has entered the classroom - its name - poverty.
The irony is that, despite its overarching presence, not many can recognise it and even less still know how to treat with it, and fewer still know how to get rid of it.
The distinction must hastily be made that while poverty will always be with us, it is not poverty nor its presence that is of note but rather its modus operandi - what it does and how it operates - the culture of poverty.
Numerous studies indicate that poverty involves a complex array of risk factors that adversely affect the child in a multitude of ways - emotional and social challenges, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags, health and safety issues.
This disengagement or disability of children's physical, psychological, emotional, and cognitive functioning from the anticipated response is the fulcrum of the challenge for many teachers and administrators.
Impairment and/or underdevelopment of the brain, whether natural or induced, requires specialised response beyond present professional capacity. Can teachers and/or any strategy of education under present pedagogical practice reform the ravages of the society?
There will be no transformation of the education sector without a commensurate shift in the mindset of students and teachers.
The balance of power has shifted away from the teacher as students have taken control of what they wish to learn; no longer is genetics or intellect charting achievement. It is to their degree of interaction, willingness and acceptance or rejection of subcultural values, coupled with the degree of parental expectation, supervision and nurturing, that does.
The status quo is sustained and the acceptance of fatalism entrenched by an unfortunate school-placement system following the GSAT that promotes vicious segregation practice by placing the highest-performing students in traditional high schools and the lowest in upgraded high schools.
We do acknowledge the stated long-term policy objectives of improving the quality and equality throughout the system which, when effected, will rebalance expectations and outcome.
Through the eLearning project, schools have been outfitted with computer-training laboratories, provided each school with multimedia presentation equipment, interactive whiteboards, printers, scanners, wired classrooms for Internet access, and has trained more than 13,000 teachers in the fundamentals of using technology in education.
There is enough equipment in every school to place each institution on the cutting edge of pedagogy. Yet, in most schools the equipment is underutilised and no clear plan or policy set in place. The objective, intention and opportunity for impact and change is lost while meticulous effort is engaged to bring efficiency to a well-intentioned product locked in antiquity.
There ought to be no difference between the running of any Fortune 500 company and any school. Yet, how many school boards receive or seek quarterly data on student performance and achievement? This is the focus, the product, the profit, the value, that is to be achieved on behalf of the people of this country.
How much data analysis is done at the beginning, during and at the end of the school year to allow for the tweaking of the product? The product may differ but the process should not.
No government can set the internal framework within the schools - that is where leadership matters. Instructional leadership by principals must chart the way to a new paradigm and achievement. Sadly, often this is weak, and effort misplaced to the continued detriment of students and country. Here, too, the inability to recognise the gorilla is manifested.
Getting education right takes a coordinated effort for a complex problem that must be tackled inside and outside the classroom. The mismatch of pedagogy to outcome is replete and is evident in the scale and severity of the fallout. It must be done, as the events of May 23 were a preview of a grimaced reality.
Building partnership communities to work, to support, to strengthen or initiate programmes to transform the product is critical.
The Government, past and present, is committed. The Van Horne Foundation is committed to this effort for change and is firm in the conviction that - 'The best opportunity to transform the education system lies in the worst-performing schools'.
Distraction and lack of motivation is nothing new or exclusive to any sector; when it occurs, there is redress, usually from parents who are alert and equipped to address the situation, giving the child support and a chance to refocus afresh or perhaps a second start.
When the distraction or disengagement from mainstream activity is created by dual value systems. Often there is no conviction or perception of divergence and subsequently no need to refocus or for a second chance, as in the affected minds, there is nothing wrong.
'Disengaged mind' in this context is therefore an external contraption, a creation of an antagonistic value system, consistent with the hidden rules of the culture of poverty.
By this time the social, psychological and cognitive damage is complete. Minds are disengaged from traditional and social values and academic principles and practice.
Transforming the culture of poverty is not a theoretical exercise. It is an engineering one. Is this not a curse?
Yvette M. Reid is an educator. Feedback may be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org,