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Diaspora urged to be more involved in education revolution

Published:Sunday | June 21, 2015 | 12:25 PM
Doran Dixon's teacher union of more than 20,000 could armwrestle the Government before the resumption of the school year in September.
Dr Renee Rattray (centre), director of education programmes at the JN Foundation, makes a point to Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica, Robert Ready (left), prior to the start of the education plenary at the Sixth Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James, June 16. Doran Dixon (right), president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, looks on.

Education professionals have called for more participation from Jamaicans, especially those overseas, to assist in further development of the sector.

Dr Renee Rattray, director of education programmes at the JN Foundation, while referencing the continued low performance in mathematics and English, charged that the education sector needs an urgent injection of innovation to treat the critical problems besetting the system.

The pleas were made at the 6th Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference held at the Montego Convention Centre, St James, which wrapped up last week.

"I am convinced that students don't have time! All they have is now!" Dr Rattray maintained in her presentation to the Diaspora conference last Tuesday.

"Students cannot wait for more resources to be provided or for Parliament to review, amend or pass the next act, policy or regulation; they can't wait for the next visit by the education officer, or for teachers to get higher wages. They can't wait for a poorly performing principal or teacher to retire in two years. They don't have time!"

Low pass rates

Last year, only 49 per cent of students who sat mathematics in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations passed, while only 59 per cent passed English. A high percentage of students did not sit the subjects.

Dr Rattray stated that poor leadership is at the centre of the problems eroding the education system. She remarked that poor leadership impacts negatively on teaching and learning; and, consequently student outcomes.

"We need an injection of disruptive innovations in our system; and this requires a 'Team Jamaica' effort, because education is a team sport, and this beautiful island's future depends on it," she said.

She continued: "There are some great things happening in schools and classrooms across this country; but, in too many places, there is this-one-size-fits-all approach. How then do we expect to achieve creativity and innovation?"

Dr Rattray, a former inspector with the National Education Inspectorate (NEI), who currently directs the iLead educational leadership programme, a partnership between the Ministry of Education and JN Foundation to improve the administrative and academic management in schools considered to be the lowest performing in the country, noted that many school leaders are barely meeting the requirements, or not at all.

"According to the National Education Inspectorate, leadership is satisfactory in only about 46 per cent of our schools, which really means leadership is merely meeting the minimum standards; while in 40 per cent of our schools it's unsatisfactory, and three per cent are in need of critical support," she quoted the NEI report.

She said that in order to build the capacity of leaders and schools, functioning partnerships must be created.

"We must all be involved to help make this happen - the business community, the civic and church communities, the parents and you, our diaspora. All of us must make some radical shifts in how we do things, because our challenges will not be solved by doing things in the same old ways; and, certainly not by using technology to do things the way we always have been doing them,"she stressed.

President of the Jamaica Teachers' Association(JTA), Doran Dixon, similarly argued that the country must move urgently to fix the education system.

"There is going to be no development in Jamaica unless we get the education thing right," Dixon argued. "And we concur that we have to get it right the first time."

More partnerships needed

He noted that while there were existing partnerships with the diaspora in many areas, including projects with the JTA in the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and math, more partnerships were needed to harness the intellectual resources of Jamaicans overseas.

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, who was also speaking at the conference, noted that schools, including tertiary institutions, benefit from some US$40 million annually in contributions from about 130 known alumni associations in the diaspora. However, he encouraged Jamaicans overseas to deepen their partnerships by also adopting individual students, teachers or school leaders.

"We urge members of the diaspora to not only to consider the computers and the classrooms which you help to make more comfortable; but, to contribute to the future of one child who can be introduced to you by a principal, or who can be recommended to you by the National Education Trust, who you can help with lunch money or pay an exam fee. Small money goes a far way," he said.