EDITORIAL - Pockets of excellence in a rotten system

Published: Friday | December 20, 2013 Comments 0

This newspaper acknowledges and congratulates the several Jamaican students who performed excellently in this year's Caribbean Examinations Council's (CXC) secondary-school examinations and who have recently been subject to such attention.

Indeed, not only was a Jamaican, Dea Thomas, named the region's most outstanding student, having scored top grades in 12 units of the CXC's advanced-level exams, Jamaicans were also the best performers in 15 discreet units of the test.

At the lower proficiency-level exam for the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC), students from this country performed best in 13 subjects and were in the top 10 of 35 of the 36 on offer.

Such results are, justly, a cause of pride for the students who achieved them and, understandably, of their schools and wider public.

But while there is celebration, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that they represent small pockets of excellence and, therefore, do not mask the ongoing crisis in Jamaica's education system.

Indeed, each year, of the cohort of students who enter high school at grade seven, more than one third are not available to sit CSEC exams, having either dropped out of school before grade 11, or been screened out of consideration by their teachers.

Of those who survive the exams, less than 20 per cent meet the national benchmark of passes in five subjects in a single sitting, under 40 per cent are successful at maths, and more than 40 per cent fail at English.

Further, of the aggregate, more than 266,000 papers written by Jamaican students at CSEC this year, there were passes in just over 60 per cent. Looked at another way, 36 per cent failed.

There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs, not least of which, this newspaper insists, is the absence of accountability in schools and the rejection by teachers and their unions to link compensation and other rewards to education outcomes.

school leadership abysmal

The feting of the top-performing students in CSEC, mainly from an expected handful of schools, coincided with the release of the latest report by the education ministry's school inspectorate. Around 300 schools were reviewed.

The reviewers found that in 79 per cent of the schools, students performed below benchmark standards, leadership was excellent or good in only nine per cent, and 46 per cent were satisfactory. Frighteningly, leadership and management, at 41 per cent, didn't make the basic cut. These findings were not substantially different from what was discovered at a different set of more than 200 schools a year ago.

What is not particularly surprising to this newspaper is the report's conclusion - that leaders of Jamaican schools spend too much time moaning about insufficient resources rather than focusing on how best to use what is available.

Teachers, clearly, don't sufficiently appreciate Jamaica's long-term economic crisis and the fact that taxpayers, rightly in our view, do not believe that they get sufficient returns for the J$70 billion a year they spend on education, which is nearly a quarter of government non-debt spending.

There are many policies required to fix education. We can start by holding teachers accountable and demanding results from our investment.

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