Ronnie get fair marks - Educators urge minister to continue transformation programme
Today, The Sunday Gleaner begins a new series, where sector interests are asked to rate the ministers on the handling of their portfolio responsibilities. Respondents were asked to give a rating between A and F, provide a strength, weakness, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis, and to give general comments on the performance of the minister. You can add your rating at www.jamaica-gleaner.com.
It is widely agreed that fixing education should be a priority for Jamaica. When Ronald Thwaites took up the reins as minister of education in 2011, he vowed to do just that. But how has he performed so far?
Ainsworth Darby - CEO, EducateJa Think Tank
S - He is a man of integrity and credibility, who has a genuine desire to make things better in the education system. He has good policy initiatives and ideas.
W - He doesn't follow through well on his initiatives and they don't go far enough. He lacks the necessary will to effect the changes that are necessary.
O - He can create public-private partnerships and give the private sector a greater role in the transformation of the education system.
T - Serious threats from wastage and continued mismanagement of financial as well as human resources within the ministry as well as poor allocation of resources.
I believe that the minister has to take the necessary lead in overhauling the Ministry of Education, and in so doing, allow the private sector to play a greater role. There are areas within the education sector that require private-sector involvement to bring down the cost of operations, as well as allow for better allocation and management of resources.
Spending within the ministry needs to be linked to measured outcomes, as we cannot continue to spend in areas that are yielding no fruit.
The minister needs to introduce more accountability - not just within the schools, but also within the ministry itself. There also needs to be more transparency within the Ministry of Education.
Ruel Reid - principal, Jamaica College
S - Is very available to all stakeholders for discussion and consultation.
W - Not always correctly diagnosing the cause of students' underperformance, leading to trying to fix the symptoms and not the source.
O - All future teachers to be trained and certified in upgraded teachers' colleges and ensure graduates are better prepared to deal with the realities in our Jamaican classroom - gender-sensitive education and differentiated instructional capacity.
T - Falling purchasing power of teachers and exodus of quality teachers from the classroom.
Overall, the minister means well and must be credited for continuing most of the policies of the former administration and trying to advance the Task Force on Education Reform 2004 agenda in a very difficult economy.
Michael-Anthony Dobson-Lewis - senior lecturer, Faculty of Education and Liberal Studies, University of Technology
S - His strengths include that of being very public. He is very interested in education and as a result has good intentions.
W - At the beginning, his relationship with the various stakeholders was not so good, but this has now changed as he displays a very good relationship with all.
O - Opportunities would include that of promoting realistic sex education in schools.
T - Threats include the ever-present need to be politically expedient than practically so.
Minister Thwaites loves education. He has good intentions for education. He has grown in the work. I believe that under the current economic challenges, no minister of education will be able to do much more than Thwaites is doing now.
Esther Tyson - retired principal
S - Willingness to tackle issues in the education system that needed to be addressed and had not been dealt with before, e.g., schools that were no longer viable because of decrease in student population and had been maintaining the original number of teachers allocated - waste of resources.
W - Impulsiveness in speech, which has the minister retracting statements made in the heat of the moment.
O - To engage the Jamaica Teachers' Association in a conversation that
has them working to empower the teachers with consistent professional development and not only salary benefits, so as to improve student learning.
T - That the radical changes the minister needs to continue to make are hamstrung by a bureaucratic system that wants to maintain the status quo.
I commend Minister Thwaites for being willing to take bold steps to address some of the waste in the education system, e.g., managing the matter of teachers going on study leave to engage areas not related to their content area. In addition, he has continued the transformation process that was begun under the Transformation in Education Project. Therefore, agencies such as National Education Inspectorate have been working to establish a baseline data on the performance of public primary and secondary schools so that there can be ongoing assessment and development of schools to ensure improved student learning.
The emphasis on numeracy and literacy at the primary levels has seen gains and, in the near future, should result in overall improvement of the students' performance in Grade Six Achievement Test. This, in turn, should impact the readiness of students moving on to the secondary level.
Wesley Boynes - president of Jamaica Independent Schools Association (JISA)
S - The minister is a very genuine person, respected by the JISA, well-spoken, and is very aware of the issues. He is also very visible.
W - Unfortunately, the minister is a politician, and at the end of the day, he has to look out for the interests of his political party. This is one of the unfortunate realities facing the education system in Jamaica. Mr Thwaites cannot push the boundaries beyond where his party would lose the popular vote.
O - Continue to pursue educational transformation and to build a proper partnership with the private-education sector.
T - A possible total lockdown of the public-education sector if he should take
an unpopular position on critical
issues facing education, for example, withdrawing the eight-month vacation benefit.
The harsh economic climate of Jamaica has resulted in an unnecessary gap between the Ministry of Education and the private-school sector and has produced a strong focus on the public-school sector ... . If the minister and his Government really want to facilitate high-level, deep learning for Jamaican students, the private-education sector must be fully and genuinely engaged in a more meaningful and authentic manner than what is currently happening.
Nadine Molloy - principal, Ardenne High
S - His ability to communicate clearly and connect with ordinary people has made the difference to persons understanding the mission of the ministry.
W - He is perhaps too visible and sometimes reactive in his responses to crises without maybe enough background information.
O - Jamaicans are interested in education and its outcomes. He is an excellent communicator; he should exploit that to the fullest.
T - The high cost of education and politicians' tendency towards exploiting/flying the free-education kite is very real, and he should not succumb to that threat!
Minister Thwaites' approach is not about reinventing the wheel; it is about making the current systems more effective and meaningful. The wide range of current policies and programmes in place are much needed for continued academic and social development.
The strong emphasis on accountability, safety and security, the early-childhood and primary sectors, to name a few, will reap significant benefits in the future; as will the energised social reengagement initiative.
The in-service training of teachers and the leadership in education is an excellent endeavour, as, too, is the valuable feedback to schools from the inspection process.