Give mandate to master principals

Published: Tuesday | December 18, 2012 Comments 0

André Wright, Opinion Editor

Hand-wringing. Excuses. Tantrums. Then the light bulb flicks on: Give us more resources. After all, that's the knee-jerk response you can always expect from the Jamaica Teachers' Association, which believes that throwing good money after bad is the best way to solve any problem.

But money and resources alone can't rescue Jamaica's shambolic education system, which produces damaged students. It's a production line driven, purportedly, by the mantra 'Every Child Can Learn, Every Child Must Learn'; but after recovering from your ROTFL mode, you realise that the watchword really is GIGO - garbage in, garbage out.

And that garbage is exacerbated by the systemic inefficiencies which define Jamaican public schools and spawn underachieving kids who, as adults, become an economic and social burden to the State.

The recent revelations of the September 2010-March 2011 National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report are hardly shocking. The data represent a micro-analysis of the broader problem which sees about 12 per cent of the 50,000 high-school students passing the basic standard of five subjects, including mathematics and English, annually. The other 44,000 students just mark time.

The inspectorate's probe of 135 primary, all-age and secondary schools has re-emphasised our doomsday dilemma. Seventy per cent of students were ranked as having either an unsatisfactory level of competence in numeracy and literacy, or in need of immediate rescue, with roughly 80 per cent of that cohort being primary-school children.

And breaking down the numbers some more, of 18 primary and junior high schools assessed, not one 'dege-dege' (yes, ZERO) institution was rated as having a good or exceptional programme of mathematics and English training. Of 73 primary schools evaluated, only five are likely to provide your child with good or exceptional competence, and approximately 27 per cent of high schools will give your son or daughter similar fortune.

What we have done is to transform our schools - the engine of growth and development for society - into a nationally sponsored babysitting service where academic standards are non-obligatory by-products of a bureaucratic behemoth.

severe teacher absence

However, if we are to consider the findings of a Jamaica Teaching Council report covered in mould for two years, many of the nannies don't even turn up, leaving the children unsupervised.

"If one should calculate the number of teacher absences taken from the selected institutions for the first 69 days (36 per cent of the school year) of the 190 days that make up a school year, one can conclude that students in Region One lost a total of three years and three months of their schooling," the report states.

Of course, some teachers and principals, especially those who refuse to take responsibility, hobble about on the crutch argument that the society has given them 'basket to carry water', or more bluntly, they've been saddled with a bunch of 'dunce bats'.

Our education system is under-resourced, but it's beyond dispute that most administrators have exhibited spineless leadership, aided and abetted by clueless school boards. The NEI report indicates that 78 per cent of school leadership could not even be rated as good.

One of the game-changers could be to install master principals with proven performance to overhaul institutions wallowing in the doldrums. Master principals, drawn from across the country, would drive policy formulation and implementation at the ground level and be tasked with changing the culture of mediocrity.

bring in the businessman

In its introspection, the Jamaican State must also weigh whether school principalships should be the exclusive thrones of teachers who've racked up much mileage in the classroom but who might not possess managerial capacity. Perhaps we have reached the point where business/organisation managers with a track record of accountability and target-driven success would be best suited to join the ranks as headmasters, regardless of not having a teaching diploma or experience. Like buildings, such biz principals could be retrofitted with educational training.

Principals already in the system should also undergo compulsory annual management seminars, like doctors and nurses, and be subject to performance-driven, three-year contracts.

Underperformance has spread among Jamaica's schools by contagion - where a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Reverse contagion, therefore, could be one of a range of answers to close the gap.

We should create incentives to woo the best of the best teachers, especially those competent in maths, English and the sciences, into ultra-marginalised public schools. All teachers are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

Programmes for substitute teachers should also be implemented. This won't require new hires, just an efficient, rotational structure like that which exists at Campion or St Andrew High.

The problem lies with leadership. The solution lies with leadership.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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