Editorial | Glossing over Patterson Report
Fayval Williams is obviously confident that fundamental transformation is under way in Jamaica’s education system. The minister, it seems, feels that in several respects she is in front of Orlando Patterson’s commission, which delivered a report on the subject nearly two years ago.
Indeed, Ms Williams’ May 17 report to Parliament of her ministry’s activities during the last fiscal year was titled ‘Educational Transformation in Progress’. The phrase appears on all 60 pages of the electronic booklet containing her speech, in some cases more than once.
Ms Williams specifically mentioned the commission and its recommendations seven times and called Professor Patterson’s name twice. Each time, it was to enunciate something in the report that was already being done or was now being implemented, such as the commission’s proposal for greater involvement by the Government in the early-childhood sector.
“We are moving apace to increase the number of Brain Builder Centres, increase the number of infant centres and infant departments, and to work with the private providers to ensure standards are met,” the minister said.
In another instance, she identified six initiatives that were broadly suggested by the commission and were being implemented during this fiscal year:
• Passage of the law to establish the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) that will license teachers;
• Revising the Handbook for Appraisal of Educators;
• Collaborating with the teachers’ colleges and departments on a programme for selecting candidates to become teachers in year three of their education programme;
• Expanding in-service training of teachers, making the system more accessible and in a position to contribute to career advancement, especially for teachers who concentrate on STEAM education;
• Widening the excellent teacher awards to teachers in each Quality Education Circle; and
• Increasing the amount of information available on the JTC’s database.
In addition to these, and other programmes being pursued by her ministry, Ms Williams reminded that a committee, chaired by Adrian Stokes, was appointed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness to oversee the implementation of the Patterson findings.
That committee, she said, meets regularly with a range of partners to ensure tasks are being done, even as the Mona School of Business and Management costs the project and develops an implementation plan and evaluation framework.
According to the minister, there have been several consultations with key stakeholders on the plans. The intention of these was no doubt sincere and the outcomes useful.
These efforts notwithstanding, Minister Williams missed a critical frame in this picture. While no one questions that, as she asserts, there is “educational transformation in progress”, or her leadership of the process, it was not clear from her parliamentary presentation that she has deeply – or widely – consulted with Jamaicans on the Patterson Report. Most people know little about it.
SECOND MAJOR REVIEW
Patterson’s was the second major review of Jamaica’s education system in 17 years. It is aimed at turning around a long-standing crisis in educational outcomes that manifests in half of Jamaican sixth-grade students being unable to read or meet the grade qualifications for numeracy; and fewer than three in 10 high-school students passing five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate subjects, including maths and English, at a single sitting.
The Patterson Commission made several recommendations that would fundamentally alter the structure of education management, as well as how, and how much, resources are allocated to various segments of the education system. For instance, the central education ministry would forfeit some of its authority to regional operational centres, and the education spend would be rebalanced in favour of early-childhood and primary education. The commission also proposed that parents of high-school students be required to contribute to the cost of their children’s education, but that the allocation of resources be skewed to schools with the least resources.
Ms Williams’ parliamentary presentation glossed over the substance of the Patterson Report.
Moreover, it is surprising that there has been no widespread, government-led engagement of Jamaicans about this critical document, the planning of whose implementation is under way. No one but for the insiders knows what Dr Stokes is being asked to oversee. Or have a real sense of if the policymakers are getting their priorities right.
While this newspaper largely endorses the Patterson Report, we are aware that wisdom does not reside in a single source. Discussion and debate test the validity of ideas. Policies are more likely to fail if implemented without the support of, or buy-in from the people they are supposed to benefit.
It is not too late for the government to reset its approach to the Patterson Report. Minister Williams should table it in Parliament, have it referred to a committee of the House for review and subject to a debate by the legislature. This should happen in tandem with public discussions across Jamaica on the findings.