Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Holistic approach to education (Part II)

Published:Thursday | January 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Wayne Campbell, Guest Columnist

Another important element contributing to students' outcome is that of remuneration of teachers. As the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) gets itself ready to negotiate on behalf of the nation's teachers for improved salaries and benefits, the teachers' union should be mindful of the fact that apart from monetary gains, which is very important, reduction in class sizes should also be on the bargaining table. If our educators are constantly thinking about their dire financial situation, then clearly this will have an impact on how effective they are.

Too many of our students are being left behind because the teacher-pupil ratio is just not practical and manageable to achieve the best outcome for our students.

It can be argued that there is a correlation between higher salaries of teachers and improved students' outcome. It's logical to conclude that teachers will be more motivated and committed to their tasks in circumstances where they are receiving a living wage.

Functional Illiterates

While we continue to make strides in our literacy levels, the fact is too many of our students are leaving school as functional illiterates. The ability to recognise words is clearly not the same as being literate. A significant number of our students, especially at the non-traditional high schools, continue to have serious reading issues. Our policymakers need to redouble their efforts in addressing this issue. The education ministry needs to engage more with those teachers in such schools and give more support wherever it's needed.

The language of instruction is also an important part regarding student outcome. While standard English is the language of instruction in the classroom, too many of our students have a difficult time understanding this. For the most part, our students come to school from a background where the dialect is spoken and readily understood. We then expect them to be able to code switch at school, which is proving a daunting task, especially for, but not confined to, those students from a working-class background. There is a tendency for students from upper-class families to do better than students from the lower socio-economic background.

This is supported by Basil Bernstein. Basil Bernstein's 'Sociolinguistic Theory of Language' code speaks to relationship between language use and social class. Bernstein argues that middle-class students have a clear advantage over students from a lower socio-economic class. According to Bernstein, "Forms of spoken language in the process of their learning initiate, generalise and reinforce special types of relationship with the environment and thus create for the individual particular forms of significance."

What Needs To Be Done

It is clear that many variables affect students' outcome. It is also clear that much work is required of all of us, as stakeholders, in order to afford our students the best possible chance at succeeding in this competitive world. Our schools must become areas conducive to the teaching and learning process. It is obvious as well that our schools in general require better school managers in order to ensure that our students achieve more. The relative weak top and middle management in a significant number of our schools continues to hamper student outcome.

The Government also has a major role as well, in terms of allocating resources in order to build more schools in areas of high population density so as to reduce class size. Common sense, supported by data, leads us to conclude that students will continue to perform better at those schools where all the stakeholders are in one accord. In the final analysis, class size does matter regarding students' outcome, due largely in part to the imbalances or shortcomings of all the other variables impacting student's outcome.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones that we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek."

- Barack Obama

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender