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EDITORIAL - Medicine for failing schools

Published:Saturday | November 12, 2011 | 12:00 AM

The frustration of Prime Minister Andrew Holness over the consistent poor performance of some of the country's primary schools in the annual Grade Four Literacy Test was evident as the latest results were unveiled earlier this week.

Confronted with this dismal record, the newly installed prime minister, who continues to hold the education portfolio, suggested that some of these schools may not be viable. In other words, we hear Mr Holness to be saying that non-performing schools, like any other entity that shows poor results, should go out of business.

People who graduated from primary schools in the '50s through '80s were, by most measures, pretty satisfied with their education, and many of these students went on to achieve scholastic goals and financial success. Back then, primary schools were overcrowded and ill-equipped, without computers and other high-tech facilities. So what accounts for this dire state of some of our schools today?

We believe that these schools, some of them in far-flung reaches of rural Jamaica, were erected to satisfy a need, so we believe bold, imaginative approaches are needed to strike at the real roots of the problem in order for these schools to be transformed into the best they can be. Although we admire the businesslike approach, we do not believe closing these schools is an option.

One of the principals of a failing school got it right in one respect when he commented: "If teachers are teaching and children still aren't grasping, they need to put some special intervention in place."

But who are the 'they'? Surely 'they' include the teachers themselves and their union, the Jamaica Teachers' Association, which should get into restructuring mode and apply tested techniques to these struggling schools to ensure that they are transformed into centres of educational excellence.

Quality teachers key to success

A groundbreaking global study of education systems conducted by consulting giant McKinsey & Co in 2009 identified South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Finland as the nations that consistently outperform the rest of the world. Success of these school systems was not based on higher education spend or even maintaining small class sizes. The one consistent thread found in these schools was quality teachers - equipped with the requisite skills to teach, motivate and inspire their classes. And, yes, these teachers were recruited from the top tier of graduating classes and they are well compensated.

'They' should also refer to parents who must take their children's education more seriously and understand that students will perform better when parents are involved, especially in ensuring their homework is done and that they attend school regularly. It's the greatest investment that a parent can make in a child.

'They' should also refer to the school board, whose members should hold the administration accountable, demanding new approaches and concrete plans to turn things around.

Underperforming primary schools are not the only ones in the nation that are failing to give our children the skills and knowledge they need to prepare for their next life steps. Many of our high schools are also failing to deliver.

The findings of a recent national poll ranked unemployment as an issue of major concern to the population. This is not surprising, because many of those who are unemployed have no skills. They are the ones who left the system with inadequate education.

It means, therefore, that the greatest domestic issue facing our country at this moment is really how to fix the education system to benefit the future generation.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.