Mon | Sep 26, 2022

Letter of the Day | Education ministry policies must be guided by accurate data

Published:Thursday | August 11, 2022 | 12:08 AM


Too often, policies of the Ministry of Education (MOE) seem to be formulated on anecdotal evidence instead of data, a habit that has had a deleterious impact on education. Take, for example, the no-tuition-fee policy.

The story goes that greedy principals (since all good stories need villains) were denying children their right to an education because they could not pay fees. As a result, the government – the hero – would abolish fees. This story quickly gained traction and the public was justifiably incensed by the idea of children being forced out of schools. Yet, the exact number of principals who were guilty of this crime, and the number of students who were excluded from schools, were not revealed. The public was clueless about how widespread this issue actually was. Additionally, a study was never done to determine the number of households which genuinely could not afford to pay school fees. Even with this critical information missing, the no-tuition-fee policy was enacted and many of our best schools have suffered because of it.

In the absence of essential data, the Ministry of Education also finds itself incapable of crafting responsive policy. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association has been sounding the alarm on the negative impact of teacher migration on the system. The MOE has assured the public that there is absolutely no need for panic but had not provided specific data to substantiate this claim. Yes, people apply for teaching positions every year, but how many of them are trained teachers or suitably qualified in the particular area they seek to teach? Principals have expressed concern about their inability to recruit teachers for particular disciplines, most worryingly in mathematics. Their fears cannot simply be dismissed.

It is important that when the MOE responds to queries on issues on education that it supports its statements with accurate data. Technology has made it easier to harvest data and the MOE must be proactive in gathering relevant information. Surely, Mrs Fayval Williams, a former information systems analyst, embraces this approach, but it needs to be entrenched in the MOE’s culture. When this happens it will inspire greater confidence in its leadership and generate more focused, needs-based policies.