We do not support the extension of school year – Gabriel
Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Jasford Gabriel says the organisation is not in support of a recommendation by Education Minister Fayval Williams to extend the school year for grade six students beyond the normal holiday period in the summer.
According to Gabriel, the association is not pleased with the ministry’s decision, which he said was taken without consulting the teachers.
“Quite frankly, I am surprised that such a decision could have been arrived at without any consultation with the teachers’ union. I thought we had a very productive meeting yesterday (last Wednesday) between the Ministry of Education and ourselves,” Gabriel said in registering his displeasure.
Gabriel said at the regular monthly meeting of the teachers’ union and the ministry on Wednesday that the matter of the extension of the school year was never mentioned. He said that from as far back as January of this year, the JTA made a case for diagnostic testing prior to the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) assessment.
“So the issue is not with the diagnostic test, but with the timing of the sitting,” the JTA boss said. “In any case, teachers have already made plans and are especially looking forward to this summer break.”
Gabriel is also questioning the rationale behind setting the diagnostic test outside of the normal contact hours for teaching and learning.
“The immediate concerns that come to mind are, why go beyond the usual July closure when the PEP ability test will be done from May 26?” asked Gabriel.
The JTA boss said this examination will have absolutely no bearing on how and where students are matriculated in high school for the new school year.
“There is certainly sufficient time to administer this online test before the scheduled end of the year in July,” Gabriel told The Gleaner. “An do we reasonably expect students to return to classes after the summer break to prepare for an examination that will have no bearing on their school placement?”
Given the current state of the education sector, Gabriel is predicting that the 2021 - 2022 academic school year will be unprecedented.
“The new school year will obviously present new and unprecedented challenges as we prepare to rally around to bridge the gaps in learning,” the JTA president said. “Both our teachers and students need to be refreshed, rested, and mentally prepared to effectively treat the challenges ahead.”
Gabriel said other jurisdictions are regulating screen hours for students and teachers due to adverse and mental physical reactions from the excessively long screen hours.
“Our teachers have not left the online platform since March of 2020, as the breaks have been used for extensive training on the learning-management systems,” explained Gabriel.
INCREASE IN SCHOOL DAYS
At this week’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Williams announced that there will be an increase in the number of school days in this academic year for grade six students to sit the ability test component of the PEP examination on May 26.
Williams said the extension is to administer diagnostic tests to identify the gaps in learning that will have to be addressed once students matriculate to the secondary level.
“This diagnostic instrument will be administered by classroom teachers ... . This would require, however, that the number of school days be increased,” said Williams. “The technical staff is preparing a retention document to lay out what criteria we will use to determine which students are retained in their current class. Once that is prepared, we will consult with our stakeholders, and, of course, this will be communicated to all Jamaicans.”