Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Leadership, management and poor student performance

Published:Thursday | August 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Jaevion Nelson

We have for far too long enjoyed the banter from the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) about the Ministry of Education (MoE) while paying little to no attention to the children who our education system is and has been failing over the years. The name calling, disrespect, resistance to change and finger pointing have excited us too much. Our 'obligation' to at all times defend our sectional interests and teachers, who no doubt have a daunting task, does not help our children; it robs our nation of possibilities.

Regrettably, we spend very little of our time understanding the challenges faced by the education ministry, teachers, principals, parents and, most important, students. The dearth of time invested in discussions to strategise a way forward is appalling. We have resigned ourselves in the status quo of underperformance in the vast majority of our schools. Seemingly, some of us do not want to make the situation any better. We do not want to work together and embrace the changes necessary to transform the education system to improve students' performance. What will jolt us into action?

It is well known that only about a quarter of our students leave secondary school with five subjects - the bare minimum to get certification or go to college. The majority of these students who fail are from the lowest socio-economic strata. They are the ones we expect to wash and put gas in our SUVs, to become our helper, and end up in police lock-up. What then is the cause for this gross wastage of scarce resources?

The data that is now readily available to us reveal that, in addition to other facts, such as limited resources and involvement of parents in the education of their children (that we generally fish for to excuse the ineptitude in the system), leadership and management of schools and curriculum and enhancement programmes are among the factors that contribute to poor student performance.

According to the National Education Inspectorate Report (2014), leadership and management was rated as good in only eight per cent of the 129 schools inspected between September 2013 and March 2014. Most schools - a total of 52 per cent - were, however, deemed satisfactory. Curriculum and enhancement programmes were rated as good in nine per cent of the schools inspected and satisfactory in 46 per cent. I'm sure we can guess which schools fall where without even reading the full report.


An analysis of the findings reveal (perhaps not surprisingly) 'that the level of performance system-wide is, for the most part, mediocre - with primary schools lagging behind the secondary ones. Additionally, with approximately half of the lessons observed rated as unsatisfactory, there is an urgent need to ensure that there is the requisite link between pedagogical practices and the national curriculum.'

The urgency with which we need to transform and reform the education system is palpable. We can no longer afford to find failure so comforting and convenient. We spend around $20 billion to undertake remediation work to help those the system has failed. We cannot continue to abdicate our responsibilities and be unwilling to be held accountable.

The squabbles and the (apparent?) resistance to urgent transformation efforts such as redeployment of teachers must end now. The JTA, while advocating for better compensation packages, must use some of its resources to work with its members to develop a strategy to support them in improving student performance, especially in low-performing schools. They must also do better in holding the MoE accountable.

It is highly unlikely that there will be a lump sum improvement in the allocation to education. We must, therefore, address inefficiency and find ways to effectively spend the $80 billion that is available.

This year's mathematics results show what is possible when our teachers and education ministry strategise and work together. There were 'significant improvements' because of a partnership which began in 2012 and included the deployment of math coaches (at a cost of $300 million) to some of our schools. 48.9 per cent of the 46,086 students who entered the subject were successful compared to 34.1 per cent of 48,633 students the previous year. Forty-six of the 58 schools that were struggling with the teaching and learning of maths showed marked improvement. Little London High in Westmoreland, Kellits High in Clarendon and Sydney Pagon High in St Elizabeth were among the top performers, with 57%, 54% and 40% of their students obtaining grades 1-3, respectively.

My commendations to the students and teachers. Let's all work together to, as Permanent Secretary Elaine Foster-Allen said, take "a problem-solving approach to the issues affecting education" and "utilise scarce resources" by targeting the problems.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and