Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Rethinking master book list

Published:Thursday | August 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Devon Dick

There is an impasse between the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) concerning the MOE issuing a master book list with the aim of cutting expenses to parents and avoiding students getting books that are not used and seriously underutilised. The JTA argues that teachers should be the ones who determine the supplementary book list because they are most competent and anything else would undermine their professional status. Additionally, JTA posits that the time between May and September is too short for consultations in order to arrive at a consensus.

There is a MOE High School textbook list concerning subjects such as mathematics, English language, Spanish, French, integrated science and health and family life education. However, I will not comment on that list because I am not familiar with those books or the authors.

I taught mathematics at Morant Bay High School for two years and I was not consulted on which textbook to use. I was given the book. However, perhaps I was not consulted because I was a pre-trained teacher. Happily, my classes did very well, getting very high commendations from then principal Stanlie Parkins as it related to my first-formers.

Obviously, some persons will make the judgement call of what is the appropriate textbook and it cannot be each teacher at each school selecting the textbook. Concerning the prescribed texts, it could be that a group of experts should make the decision and all schools, and ultimately all students, use the same texts. In other words, all the Jamaican children should benefit from a similar education no matter which high school the person attends.

serious overhaul

However, concerning the supplementary list, there needs to be serious overhaul. Take, for example, the MOE literature list for grades seven, eight and nine: each list is 24 books long. The authors include world-renowned Derek Walcott, VS Naipaul, William Shakespeare, C. Everald Palmer, Chinua Achebe, Vic Reid, Mark Twain, Jean DaCosta, Pamela Mordecai and Philip Sherlock, etc. No one could complain about the quality of these writers selected by the Ministry of Education.

However, my problem is that the ministry's list is too long and naturally, the JTA's list would be even longer. A supplementary book list should be exactly that - a supplementary list to the required textbook list. These supplementary lists are not required texts but texts for additional reading and additionally perspective. The ministry and JTA should consult on required texts and forget about supplementary lists. It should be noted that students should be so taught that they can pass any subject once they learn and master the subject matter of the required text through good teaching.

Then the teachers should consult and read the supplementary texts and provide additional notes. Supplementary texts should be for those who have additional interest and passion in a particular topic or desire to get an outstanding grade in a subject. Furthermore, students should not be required to buy these books but they should be available in school libraries and public libraries.

half the school on path

Obviously, persons are not aware that there are thousands of students who are on the PATH programme. According to Senator Ruel Reid, educator, 50 per cent of primary and high school students are on PATH. This means that they are on the feeding programme, they get books free of rental charges and they do not pay auxiliary fees. More than half of the parents cannot afford the supplementary list.

The bottom line is that the supplementary list needs revamping; wherein parents are not required to buy textbooks from this list. Teachers should use the supplementary texts to augment, where necessary, the concept material from the required text and teach the students. Additionally, libraries should be outfitted with books from the supplementary list, allowing students the opportunity to delve deeper into the related subject matter, while at the same time developing some well-needed research skills.

Rev Dr Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.