The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) released its latest report titled Prisms of Possibilities - A Report Card on Education in Jamaica. The report is long on diagnosis and short on prognosis, adding little value beyond what the Task Force Report on Education described in 2004.
The most glaring omission is an analysis of the failure to effectively transform the education system. Recommendations are more suggestive than strategic, such as: use data to improve education outcomes; improve attendance and instil the value of education. Failure to analyse the transformation shortcomings has resulted in no recommendations to correct same, and I, therefore, find CaPRI's report pretty much ado about nothing new.
The Dr Rae Davis-chaired Task Force on Education Reform engaged a wide cross section of stakeholders and crafted a report which was laid in Parliament in December 2004.
While the report had many recommendations, several of which coincide with CaPRI's, there were four fundamental transformation strategies: shift authority from the ministry to schools; shift to a student/learner-centred system; ensure accountability systems at all levels of the education system, not simply students; and opening up of the system to include wide stakeholder involvement.
Finally, an additional $520 billion (2004) over a 10-year period covering 2005-2015, was required to achieve the vision for education. The lion's share of this amount was earmarked for new school capacity/existing infrastructure improvement and, therefore, deemed vital, not strategic.
MINISTER MUST TAKE LEAD
Very little transformation has occurred since 2004, which has escaped the attention of CaPRI researchers. Even more surprising is that the recently appointed permanent secretary, Mrs Elaine Foster-Allen, a member of the 2004 Task Force, also does not see transformation as a priority. In describing her appointment as a national call, The Gleaner of December 4, 2012 quoted Mrs Foster-Allen as follows: "Improving early-childhood education and the use of information technology to improve teaching and learning will be among the major focus of the ministry as it seeks to execute the mandate of ensuring a system which secures quality education and training of all citizens of Jamaica."
We should, therefore, expect business as usual, unless Minister Ronald Thwaites puts his foot firmly down at Heroes Circle. In his 2012 Sectoral Debate presentation, the minister stated, "Transformation has started but now needs to be strengthened with fixity of purpose."
With national education outcomes far below where they should be, rather than having a Transformation Unit, the entire Ministry of Education's purpose must be education transformation, with Mr Thwaites taking the lead.
CaPRI makes the same mistake as the Ministry of Education by reporting CSEC performance using number sitting rather than total grade 11 cohort as the denominator. The task force report set the bar with the then 2015 target as "60 per cent grade 11 cohort passing five CSEC subjects, including maths and English". The challenge is that many grade 11 students do not sit the CSEC exams, and that rate is much higher in Jamaica than in Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. Hence, the real country comparisons are much worse than what CaPRI reports.
The period to transform our education system to achieve dramatic student performance improvement was set initially at 11 years, with 2015 as the milestone for accomplishment. Without any real attempt at transformation in the early years, former head of the Transformation Unit, Frank Weeple, announced in 2009 that the targets would not be met by 2015, precisely because no transformation had taken place. It is déjà vu, with CaPRI, as The Gleaner of January 22, 2013 reports: "Under current trends, it would take Jamaica until 2025 before 60 per cent of school leavers are able to attain five or more passes in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, according to research conducted by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute."
Jamaica has never really gone beyond 15 per cent of its grade 11 cohort passing five subjects, including maths and English, so there is no evidence or data to back up what needs to be done. Instead of being business as usual by projecting "continued trends" as CaPRI does, we must be innovative as we transform.
Writing in the Harvard Business School Alumni Bulletin, March 2012, Professor Clayton Christensen said: "We are trained to back up all assertions with data and evidence. The problem is that data are only available about the past. If you are trying to innovate and you have a data-driven mindset, you can't go forward."
The good news is that there are several programmes outside the ministry's purview which suggest that real transformation can bring results well before 2025. For example, there is a programme involving the transformation of six schools in inner-city and rural areas through governance, strategy articulation, strategy execution, accountability, and community involvement.
In the case of one of the schools, the strategic transformation plan projects an increase from the 2012 level of three per cent grade 11 cohort passing five subjects, including math, English and a vocational subject to 60 per cent by 2017. This will, however, require fixity of purpose, as stated by Minister Thwaites, and total transformation of the school, which the ministry seems to be unable to do itself.
St Paul said in Romans 12:2: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."
MANAGEMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
The CaPRI report has given management and accountability a C+ grade, giving a positive rating to school autonomy and decentralisation. While there has been some decentralisation from Heroes Circle to the regional education authorities, that is where it ends. School autonomy is very limited, as regional directors and education officers fail to understand they are there to serve the schools, and not the other way around.
It is beyond question that the greatest impact on school performance is school leadership; however, the ministry has failed to adequately develop or retrench those principals who may have been excellent teachers but are poor leaders, and has used this flimsy excuse not to give schools autonomy they need.
Among the shortcomings of the task force report was the recommendation for a standalone leadership institute for principals. A more efficient way is to use the existing management studies institutions or to introduce relevant programmes in select teachers' colleges. The debacle with Dr Doeford Shirley is a result of the ministry taking the correct approach to scrap the idea of an institute.
PUBLIC EXPENDITURE ON EDUCATION
The CaPRI report grades the country a B+ on public expenditure, asserting: "In 2010, Jamaica invested a greater share of its national wealth (6.1 per cent) in education than the 5.2 per cent average for developed countries." The problem is that percentage GDP is not always the proper indicator for comparison among countries. Because Jamaica's GDP/capita is approximately one-quarter that of Barbados' and Trinidad & Tobago's, their real dollar spend per student is more than four times Jamaica's.
The fact that a middle manager at the National Housing Trust is compensated some five times greater than a school principal tells us where our priorities lie in public expenditure. The ministry pays for, inter alia, books and infrastructure, which carry the same cost across countries. Were we to use percentage GDP to be on par with Barbados and T&T regarding expenditure on government vehicles, our Cabinet ministers would be riding motorcycles!
The report correctly states that tertiary expenditure per student is now four times primary, but fails to mention that in 2010, tertiary expenditure per student was actually 17 times that for early-childhood education! If we agree that early-childhood education is a priority, I agree with CaPRI that we need to put our money where our mouths are!
Robert Wynter is the managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited, which facilitates organisational transformation and leadership development. Comments are welcome at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.