Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
As the education ministry shifts into damage-control mode following public outcry over yet another controversial curriculum text, confirmation has come that the established approval process for vetting teaching material was not followed.
"Based on preliminary investigations, the curriculum guide really did not go through the formal approval process. There was no formal approval from the core curriculum unit," Grace McLean, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, told The Sunday Gleaner last Friday.
She revealed that preliminary checks have unearthed no documentation to show that the controversial curriculum guide was approved by the core curriculum unit.
According to McLean heads might roll for the breach that caused the teacher text - Health and Family Life Educational Curriculum: Grades 7-9 - to get into the system.
"As in any organisation, we have disciplinary action if rules are not followed. This situation is not different from any other situation," said McLean.
"Allow us to complete the investigation," McLean added when asked when action will be taken against the offenders.
Last Friday, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites ordered that the book, with questionable homosexual connotations and age-inappropriate sexual content, be pulled from the school system.
This is not the first time the ministry has been forced to remove a controversial text with homosexual content from the school system, leading to concerns about whether the education ministry's approval process works.
Among the questions the curriculum guide asks educators to pose to students are:
The text also encourages educators to ask children to get comfortable, close their eyes and imagine that they are the only straight person in a world of homosexuals.
As the education ministry seeks to find the answers to lingering questions on the lips of parents and stakeholders, it has admitted that a major infraction occurred when the book was piloted in several schools in September 2011.
"It is considered a breach. If it was brought to the CEO (chief education officer), it would have been discussed with the PS (permanent secretary) and the minister would have been brought in," said McLean who was the CEO when the curriculum was being revised and the sections on sexuality inserted into the modified text.
Must be evaluated
She told The Sunday Gleaner that before curriculum guides are introduced into the school system, they have to be evaluated by the education ministry's curriculum development officers who must report to the deputy chief education officer in charge of curriculum-related matters.
The deputy CEO must then report to the CEO, who must give an account to the permanent secretary who would then share the information with the minister.
While not being able to answer that question, here's what the ministry knows so far: The original curriculum document was developed in 2006 and rolled out into the school system in 2007.
Between 2009 and 2011, the curriculum guide was revised and the questionable sections on sexuality and sexual health were introduced.
McLean said the revision was spearheaded by the education ministry's health and family life education unit, which was started seven years ago.
This unit, she disclosed, is fully funded by international donor organisations such as the Global Fund, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Children's Fund.
McLean said other agencies also provided technical support to the health and family life unit in the revision of the curriculum that produced the 352-page document.
"Notwithstanding that, the approval process should have been followed. I don't want to say it was negligence, perhaps oversight - a breakdown in ensuring procedures are followed," said McLean.
Meanwhile, the opposition Jamaica Labour Party urged the education minister to take a serious look at the review and approval process of these books to ensure this situation does not recur.
"The Opposition is gravely concerned at the re-emergence of text books that treat with human sexuality in such a way as to be a cause of concern for parents.
"In 2007, then Minister of Education Andrew Holness ordered a review of all such texts and pulled from the curriculum those that had strong objections," read a press statement issued by Opposition late last Friday.