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Letter of the day: Don't mix politics and education

Published:Wednesday | September 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM


On a visit to the United Kingdom a few years ago, I read an article in The Guardian newspaper about 14 educators from public schools, who had joined forces to condemn politicians' involvement in the public school system. In an open letter to the media, the educators stated, "Politicians are damaging Britain's schools by attempting to control everything that goes on in the classroom." The professors called on politicians to stop meddling with schools - "de-politicise them" - and place trust back with educators.

The Jamaican situation is similar yet different. Politics does influence the management of schools. Politicians are mandated to handle politics and educators are charged to focus on education. However, our education system does not always reflect that. Thankfully under the watch of this minister of education, things seem to be heading in the right direction, as there have been cases where those who meddle are cautioned against it.

Educators spend years and thousands of dollars gaining the necessary instructions, training and expertise to be qualified for the job. So it is commendable that Government has already implemented a training programme for board members and principals to help them better manage their responsibilities.

Politicians ought not to meddle with any school's administration - at best they should show some discretion in the degree to which they interfere. As citizens, we need to realise that ministers of government, mayors and councillors are no better suited to run schools, than they are to run construction sites or conduct a surgical procedure.

The most obvious form of political interference in education, is in the appointment of school boards. The boards of government-run institutions are largely appointed by political representatives. I am not saying that political representatives cannot exercise some degree of influence on certain areas in the education sector, however, a school's board should not only be chosen by politicians, but also by the other vital stakeholders in the process, in order to eliminate speculation about political interference.

Why schools fail

I don't regard "failing" as deterioration from the bottom up. School boards don't fail because principals fail; principals don't fail because teachers fail; and teachers don't fail because their students fail. It is the other way around; students fail when teachers fail to teach in a way, that adequately reaches students so they can understand the lessons taught. Teachers also fail when their principal fails to manage the day-to-day activities of the school. Lastly, the principals will fail if the board is failing to provide the principal with the right management tools and support to effectively execute their job.

I think all issues that people have with an educational institution can, and should be laid at the feet of the management team of each school. But more often than not, these boards are headed by politically appointed directors who are likely to be changed every five years based on which party is in power and who gives the most support.

We must get to a place where there are consistent and competent management systems in all public schools and where principals are better equipped and supported by the school boards. This will result in better management of educational institutions, fully engage trickle the teachers making them better classroom managers and strategists, and result in increased positive classroom interactions and enviable results for all schools.

Trisha K Williams-Singh

Board chairman

New Forest Primary, Junior High and Infant School.