Mark Nicely did not set the hoped-for tone in his inaugural address as president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA). He was too much the union man.
We, nonetheless, hope that Dr Nicely is capable of seeing his, and the JTA's, role in terms larger than delivering benefits to teachers, but in helping to fix the crisis in education. At least, the JTA should be willing to match benefits to performance.
It is against this backdrop that we will scrutinise Dr Nicely's leadership of the JTA over the next year, as well as the discourse of the association's annual conference in Ocho Rios during the rest of this week, for signs of introspection and willingness to change.
We dare say that most people expect little. For while Dr Nicely remains, up to now, a largely unknown quantity, JTA members, under the organisation's Byzantine governance structure, recently voted for Doran Dixon, as their president-elect, to assume office in a year's time. In the meantime, Mr Dixon is, constitutionally, the second most powerful person in the JTA.
Our recall of Mr Dixon's previous presidency of the JTA was one of opposition to performance-based remuneration for teachers, and little else done loudly.
Mr Dixon reinforced that perception during the recent campaign to remain in the job when he likened Education Minister Ronald Thwaites to a mongrel and urged resistance to changes to leave and study entitlements that taxpayers can no longer afford.
In the circumstance, Dr Nicely may well feel pressured to prove his credentials as an opposer of rational reforms, including changes to hold teachers accountable. He might do this while mouthing platitudes about the sacrifices his members have endured.
Such an approach is, ultimately, unsustainable. For, increasingly, Jamaicans are recognising that they are not gaining adequate returns on the more than J$75 billion they spend annually on education and are asking tough questions of everyone, including teachers. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the recent ranking of schools, based on results in the 2012 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams, promoted such ongoing debate.
CRISIS NOW AND THEN
One key finding of that analysis was that more than 70 per cent of Jamaican students, after five years of secondary school, do not achieve the minimum for matriculation to higher education, or a decent job - passes in five subjects at CSEC, including English and math.
But the crisis highlighted in that report is not new. Eight years ago, education researcher Dr Dennis Minott, using four years of data from the Caribbean Examinations Council, ranked schools on the basis of the number and quality of passes at CSEC, how well they retained their cohort from grades six to 11, whether students were screened out of the exams, and the average number of subjects sat by students.
Dr Minott found that "of nearly 400 [public and private] entities preparing the Jamaican adolescent for CXC's CSEC, less than 6.5 per cent of them were successful in tutoring students". He concluded, too, that "Jamaica's high schools and teachers are out of control".
Not too much has changed since 2005. Dr Nicely has an opportunity to lead the JTA into an engagement to fix the problem.
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