Richard Kitson-Walters, Guest Columnist
Jamaica continues to struggle to put its public ducation system on solid ground. It should be noted (without any sense of consolation) that throughout the United States, particularly its urban centres, public-school education is no farther along today than it was in April 1983 when the seminal education reform work, A Nation At Risk, was first published.
Comprehensive education reform in Jamaica was launched with the 2004 Task Force on Education Reform Report. Similar to our neighbours to the north, albeit a much shorter lifespan, there is no indication that we are better off today than we were in 2004. The transformation process has been very heavy on structural expansion - Jamaica Teaching Council, National Education Inspectorate and National Education Trust, which quite frankly have only added to the already bloated bureaucracy.
The transformation process continues to sputter in the areas of curriculum, teaching and learning support, governance and management, and finance. Why is it, for example, that eight years since the tabling of the education transformation report, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) is asserting, "Most principals in the school system have not been trained in management and possess limited ability to develop strategic plans and monitoring mechanisms?"
Tertiary-level reform will aim to trigger, among other gains, the redress of our curriculum, teaching and learning support, and the governance challenges. Public tertiary education in Jamaica has, for a long time, suffered from a lack of central planning and coordination vis-a-vis national priorities.
It appears that each of our approximately 10 institutions (University of the West Indies not counted) exercises an appreciable level of autonomy that has led to fragmented and unsustainable programme development.
Our first order of business should be the creation of a University College of Jamaica system that comprises all public tertiary institutions (except the University of Technology). Simultaneously, there will be the need to create one governing board to take control of the system's governance and oversight, and appoint a campus administrator for each campus.
With a more streamlined bureaucracy, we may be in a better position to more efficiently manage scarce and dwindling resources and also optimise our response to the various challenges that have beset us. The campuses in this new dispensation will be assigned specific responsibilities to tackle the areas of curriculum, teaching and learning support, and governance and management.
Curriculum and teacher education would be broken down into primary, secondary, math/science, and workforce development campuses, and depending on the size of the campus, there could be some overlapping of specialisation. Each campus of the University College of Jamaica will have both an instructional and research mandate with accountability mechanisms in place.
A governance and management academy to prepare and upgrade K-12 department heads, assistant principals, principals, and tertiary administrators would be clearly defined and put in place. The current leadership debacle at Tarrant High School, for example, is clear evidence of an urgent need to provide leadership development programmes throughout the system. As well intentioned as the principal may have been to effect meaningful change, he obviously lacked the leadership insights that would have allowed for positive change without the upheaval and apparent vote of no confidence.
We are too small a country to afford autonomous tertiary institutions to the extent we have had since Independence. Whereas this is by no means a perfect solution, I do expect that we should begin a process to rationalise and reform our higher-education system.
It is expected that there will be those who, for one reason or another, will trash the idea, and that's okay. I, however, will expect solid counter-recommendations to bring some semblance of a unified governance structure that will allow for maximising Jamaica's financial and human resources that may bring about a first-class education system.
Our current posture is untenable, archaic, and uninspiring.
Dr Richard Kitson-Walters is a higher-education specialist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.