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EDITORIAL - What Mr Thwaites must not allow

Published:Tuesday | June 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Ronnie Thwaites knows that words are, of themselves, neither objects nor actions.

So while we welcome the education minister's declaration of intent to hold teachers accountable, including the introduction of a system of performance-based compensation, we wait - without bated breath - to see how this translates into effective and implemented policy.

The truth is that we fear Mr Thwaites will define a policy with so many loopholes that it will be a giant sieve through which teacher underperformance will continue to have almost unfettered access.

First, what we like about what Mr Thwaites said.

Like us, the minister is concerned that too many of the island's more than 20,000 state-paid teachers appear not to take their jobs seriously, or generally do it badly, thereby short-changing taxpayers.

Such teachers, said Mr Thwaites, "should pack their bags and go". We agree.

He added: "I believe that with the strengthening of the regimen of accountability for our teachers, you are going to find an improvement in the quality and, frankly, a winnowing of the chaff."

What that, too, we agree.

But here is where we have a concern.

If he did not waffle, Mr Thwaites did not leave us with the sense that he has in mind a robust regimen aimed at guaranteeing returns, rather than something designed to appease the teachers' union - the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA).

Said Mr Thwaites: "We want to lift the pedigree of the teaching profession. We want to reward those who are doing their work diligently and effectively, not by the crude way that it has been suggested, that unless your class gets 90 per cent CSEC [Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate] passes, you're a failure. You can't say that."

Mr Thwaites has, largely, posited the issue in the extreme fashion it is usually put by the JTA in its perennially successful effort at avoiding performance-based remuneration and general accountability for its members.

Exams carry much weight

No one has argued that examination passes should be the sole criterion for judging the performance a teacher and/or a school and its leadership. But unlike Mr Leslie Riley, the principal of the Marcus Garvey High School, in his article in this newspaper last year, we do not believe that researchers make "a big mistake" in using exam results as a critical index of "academic success".

Exam results do matter as markers of achievement. Or, perhaps we are happy that more than half of our children at grade four are neither fully literate nor numerate; that a third end primary school illiterate; or that hardly more than a fifth, at the end of high school, pass five CSEC subjects in a single sitting.

What Mr Thwaites must not accept is the JTA's implied position that a rigorous system of performance assessment has to await the equality of resources in all schools, which would be to undervalue the hard work and outcomes of teachers whose institutions do well despite limited resources.

If exam results are not the larger part of the performance quotient, we may tweak Principal Riley's observation about students who do very well at high school and test our children on their "streetsmarts, a necessary skill for survival".

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.