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Missing factors in Education 2020

Published:Sunday | May 2, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Esther Tyson, Contributor

Bill Johnson's ranking of secondary schools based on their performance in math and English in the CXC-CSEC Examinations 2009 has once again been published in The Gleaner's Education 2020. The article was titled 'Education system gets Grade F'. In addition, the announcement that the Grade Four Numeracy Test reveals that less than 50 per cent of the students who did that test accomplished mastery, has dismayed Ministry of Education officials.

Our education system, as we all know, is in trouble.

Once more, we will be looking at the school's performance in terms of classroom preparation and delivery, assessment and feedback, yet underlying all of this are bigger issues which, as a nation, we are failing to address. This is the impact of crime and violence and the abandonment of parental responsibilities on the academic achievement of our students.

Baker-Henningham H., Meeks-Gardner J., Chang S., Walker S., sought to explore the effect of violence on academic achievement and published their findings in 2009 in a paper titled 'Experiences of violence and deficits in academic achievement among urban primary school children in Jamaica'.

The findings showed that "there was a - relationship between children's experiences of violence and academic achievement, with children experiencing higher levels of violence having the poorest academic achievement, and children experiencing moderate levels having poorer achievement than those experiencing little or none".

This report establishes what we know as educators in the classrooms: the clear correlation between students who are exposed to violence and crime in their communities and violence in the homes and low academic achievement. In many instances, the students who act up come from situations where there is abuse, violence, and sometimes, exposure to criminality. The students reflect attitudes of defiance of authority, lack of motivation to learn, unwillingness to believe that they can achieve success through education and lack of control over their negative emotions, such as anger. These students become disruptive in class and affect the learning process of other students. They seem not to value what education has to offer and make little effort to adapt to normative patterns of behaviour.

Baker-Henningham also has done research that shows that another primary reason for academic underachievement is ineffective parenting. Again, this is confirmed with what we see happening in our schools. Students who are underperforming academically, if they do not have a learning disability, are not getting the parental supervision and support those students who are doing well are receiving. In Jamaica, ineffective parenting is becoming endemic. Add to this then the children's exposure to crime and violence and we see that we are condemning ourselves to a generation of adults who will not be educated enough to be able to move our country forward economically and socially.

Cognitive abilities

Many of our youth do not know how to reason. Their cognitive abilities have not been developed by their parents reading to them, encouraging early stimulation through play, and exposing them to activities which help to deve-lop their minds. The point is that we have so many people who are too young and/or too irresponsible in how they live their lives becoming parents. They treat babies as toys, and as soon as these children become too demanding, they are abused, mistreated or abandoned. This is happening all across our nation. Anyone who reads about what affects learning positively knows that this type of upbringing will blight the academic future of such children.

If at grade four we are finding that less than half the students assessed have achieved mastery of numeracy, it means that we need to go back even earlier and intervene in the lives of the students. I believe that more than 60 per cent of our children need special-education intervention from as early as grade one. In order to change this dismal condition, which predicts a gloomy future for our people, strategies and resources must be put in place to affect and change the outcomes.

The Government must aggressively deal with the horrific crime problem in our nation. If they are not managing on their own to change the situation, they must bring in outside assistance. In addition, they must begin to clean up their own involvement with the criminal elements in our nation.


Furthermore, parents must be held accountable for how they perform their parenting responsibilities. Training in parenting needs to be mandated for every girl/woman who gets pregnant and goes to a clinic or doctor for prenatal care. Fathers must be identified on birth certificates and be held responsible for the upbringing of their children. They, too, should be mandated to go to parenting classes. The Government should establish community organisations which provide a system of trained home-care supervisors who visit homes in the early years of children's lives to help to train parents and supervise the children's care.

No amount of implementing performance management in the schools or data-driven curriculum delivery and assessment will improve our academic performance nationally in a significant way if these social problems are not addressed.

In addition, the Ministry of Education needs to deal with the immediate crisis by recognising that each school should have equipped and trained special-education personnel to implement strategies which would help to alleviate some of the learning problems our children are experiencing because of the deprivation and abuse they have experienced in their early developmental years.

The training of special educators needs to be fast-tracked in our colleges and universities. These persons need to be added to each school's establishment instead of principals trying to be creative in having a teacher who has not really been appointed for that purpose doing 'a little thing' to help some students.

We are in a crisis and we need critical care!

Esther Tyson is principal of Ardenne High School St Andrew. Feedback may be sent to