Jamaica and its education system
Esther Tyson, Contributor
The debate as to whether the National Education Inspectorate's Report should be made public rages on. The question we should all be answering is: Are all stakeholders in edu-cation working together to ensure that our education system is overhauled to become effective in training our youth for the 21st century?
Is the Ministry of Education working to supply schools, from the early childhood to the secondary level, with the necessary resources for student learning? In order to achieve the status of a developed nation by 2030, this is absolutely essential.
The Government has promised free education up to the secondary level. If this is a serious commitment, then the attendant actions must reflect this approach. There are basic tools which are needed for learning. Textbooks and writing materials are some such. In spite of this, there are stories of primary schools not having received textbooks. This situation must be addressed with urgency. Such schools cannot be expected to produce the anticipated results in the Literacy and Numeracy Assessments.
One of the key factors in the education process is the environment in which learning takes place. If we are serious about developing our citizenry into an educated force, this aspect of learning must be addressed. Having teachers attempt to teach multi-grade levels in one classroom with a total of 60 or more students, for example, indicates that we are giving lip service to our intent to improve out educational outcomes.
Furthermore, in order for effective learning to take place, teachers must be trained so that they are competent in their field and at the same time able to guide their students in their educational development. One area that is becoming increasingly problematic in our search to achieve an educated populace is the matter of communication. For us to be competitive in the global economy, our people need to be able to communicate with the outside world.
Here is the problem, Jamaican Creole is not spoken by any other nation, whilst Standard Jamaican English is understood by other English speaking persons. Many of our teachers are coming into the classroom being unable to master Standard English. Our children, therefore, are finding it difficult to learn Standard English. There are not many opportunities for them to be immersed in the language. For many, it is not heard at home, or in the public space, or through the media and neither in the classroom.
It should be clear then, that English must be taught as a second language in our classrooms, yet the teacher-training institutions are not training our teachers to teach English this way. Hence, the basic competence of communicating with other nation groups is not being shaped in many of our students.
Another area in which the teacher-training institutions have been lagging behind is in the development of information technology (IT) competence in the teachers. According to Dr Didacus Jules, registrar of Caribbean Examination Council, "Our teacher preparation processes have not kept pace with ... challenges and in too many countries, an insufficient proportion of the teaching service is neither trained nor prepared to successfully deliver instruction to the new generation student in distinctly different conditions such as we face today. The teaching service needs to be re-energised."
This statement is applicable to the outdated mode of preparation taking place in our teacher-training institutions. Teachers must come into the classroom, not only knowing how to use IT to enhance learning, but they must have developed the skills to recognise learning difficulties in students. In addition, they must have been given help to deal with their own emotional issues so that they can be emotionally well enough to deal with the myriad of problems facing our students in today's Jamaica.
A very important stakeholder group in this matter of education that has to be highlighted is our parents. More and more parental responsibility for the social, spiritual and emotional development of our children is being demitted by parents and left to the schools. This responsibility primarily belongs to the home, yet more and more the schools are being expected to perform the parents' role in the upbringing of their children.
Research continually shows that children who do well are those who are given the support at home by their caregivers and who are allowed to play and learn through play, yet we have a culture where many times the children are told that "unnu play too much". Children's cognitive development is enhanced by parents who read to them regularly when they are very young, yet many of our parents are unable or unwilling to read to their children. They see little value to this practice.
Studies show the impact of abuse on the learning capacity of children, yet in Jamaica, our people continue to practice physical, verbal and sexual abuse and then expect our children to perform at the level of those who live in supportive environments.
Our government, private sector and media practitioners need to develop a plan to educate our people on their responsibilities as parents. Since our society is not a very literate one, it needs to be done through audio-visual means. We must change our culture, which sees children as a bother or as a workforce.
Publishing the results of the literacy and numeracy tests might expose what is happening in the schools, but it certainly will not address the serious problem with which we are faced.
In speaking with the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) on this matter, they have indicated a commitment to accountability and transparency in the education system whilst the Ministry of Education is seeking to carry out the programme of Transformation in Education. The JTA and the Ministry must now now work together in this transformation. All stakeholders must be united to achieve this goal.
Unity is strength, so much so that God, knowing its power, destroyed the Tower of Babel.
Esther Tyson is principal of Ardenne High School, St. Andrew. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.