We must transform or remain mediocre - Thwaites
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites says Jamaica has only one choice concerning its education sector: Transform or remain satisfied with mediocrity.
The frank-talking minister was speaking during the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Jamaica National Building Society Foundation (JN) and the Ministry of Education to launch the iLead education leadership programme.
The comprehensive school-improvement initiative will target 15 schools in Portland, St Mary, and St Thomas, which make up the ministry's Region Two. The schools are considered the most in need of support by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI).
The iLead programme will work with five schools in the first year: Port Maria Primary, Brimmer Vale High and Islington High schools in St Mary; Buff Bay Primary in Portland; and Robert Lightbourne High in St Thomas.
The programme will also support the ministry's education officers assigned to the region.
"We can continue with this thing that I call 'stasis', where we simply take all of our energies and all our resources ... and have a few exceptional successes, but the normative level of performance is on a very shallow upward curve not consistent with our people and their capacities," Thwaites told the audience of principals, students, ministry officials, and JN representatives.
"There is an option, and it's an aspect of that option that we are celebrating today. The option is a transformation," he said, applauding what he described as a marriage of the private sector, Government, and Opposition.
Thwaites maintained that while Jamaica has made marked achievements, particularly in terms of developing access to education, it still struggles to provide quality.
"The mandate of our generation is in terms of equity and quality, and that's where iLead has its place," he emphasised.
He also noted that several studies underscore that for schools to transform, they need visionary leaders and the full support of the community, particularly parents. And a strong modality of leadership can be taught to establish effective models for leadership in schools.
"This is what the iLead project was created to do. And our aim is to transform the education system instead of being satisfied with the mediocrity of stasis," he declared.
Also speaking at the launch, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, who chairs the iLead advisory committee, said the country was at a point where its progress could not be based on exploitation of its natural resources only. He said human development was critical to the future of Jamaica.
"We cannot allow any school to fail. We cannot allow any student to underperform. Once we do that, we begin to lose that valuable human resource," he said.
Holness said Government cannot be left alone to address all problems; but, everyone, including corporate citizens, must participate.
"JN has taken the risk of implementing and innovating new ways in education, but it's not a risk that will not bear fruit. It's a risk that will be very positive because many of the new and innovative techniques and the strategies to be employed are tried, tested, and proven around the world," he said.
He also emphasised the need for politics to be separated from education. Acknowledging the work done by former Prime Ministers P.J. Patterson and Edward Seaga in the 1990s to establish the Education Transformation programme, he said education must remain neutral.
"It's a good symbol that the leader of the opposition and the minister of education can sit on the platform, both of us rooting for the same goal," Holness underscored.
one jamaica approach
Earl Jarrett, the chairman of the JN Foundation and the general manager of JNBS, said a "One Jamaica" approach was needed to treat with problems in the education system, and the issue of failure in non-traditional schools, particularly those situated in rural Jamaica, is an issue of choice rather than pre-determined outcomes.
"It is a choice that we have made to create underperforming schools, and this choice is often compounded by a combination of factors such as inadequate community engagement; inadequate utlisation of assets presented to the schools by the Ministry of Education; inadequate levels of accountability to the community, to taxpayers, and the nation," Jarrett underscored.
He said school leaders were also struggling to manage the large infrastructure in their remit, noting that many schools were larger than many big businesses in Jamaica, and, therefore, required a particular type of engagement and management.
"You must never underestimate the job of a headmaster/CEO in Jamaica and the many stakeholders you have to deal with," he pointed out. "Therefore, the iLead programme will assist schools to develop a stronger identity, which will help them to confidently pursue better outcomes."