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Teachers aren't messiahs; hold parents accountable

Published:Tuesday | June 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Mark Nicely, Guest Columnist

Mark Nicely, Guest Columnist

Equity in the public education system will require a broad commitment from the society, including the major stakeholders, parents, teachers, students and Government.

Access to the best of the system must be available to all. Government funding must be stable and consistent with the present economic climate. There has to be an active awareness so that the education policies do not operate in a vacuum, and they must be supported by other social policies, all aimed at making the system more accessible to the most vulnerable in our society. At the heart of crafting educational policies must be the desire to enable equity.

Consideration of the cultural, social, socio-economic and historical contexts of the various communities served by the education sector is fundamental. It is important to know our customers and their needs before we can effectively serve them. Policies and programmes must be designed to meet specific needs of the cohort of students we treat with, including the needs of parents and communities. In this respect, one size does not fit all, and the aim ought not to be that everyone is treated the same way, but instead, that we provide multiple prescriptions for the nation's children.

NEEDS-SERVICING approach

Equity requires a needs-servicing approach. For example, the kind of approach taken for children of parents in a community, who, for the most part, have a high level of education, has to be different from that taken in a community where parents have serious academic challenges. Greater value has to be placed on informal or non-traditional knowledge and ways of learning. Many students who struggle with formal education are excellent at survival skills. The wholesale adoption of practices from other jurisdictions does not advance equity as in many instances, the issue of context is not considered.

There is no singular universal best practice that can be replicated without tweaking.

We must never downplay the reality that parents are primary educators of their children and they must be held accountable.

To achieve equity, schools must be welcoming places for students and parents. Sewn into the fibre of our education system must be high expectations for all students. The curriculum must be broad and inclusive. All types of learning must be valued.

FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT

Pedagogy and assessment are critical. The whole aim is to teach children in such a way that they are able to learn. Formative assessment must be viewed as one of the most powerful teaching strategies. Students must be given choices to show what they have learnt.

The education system in Jamaica, as is the case across the world, treats with individuals who are fundamentally and genetically different. In seeking to acquire equity in our education system, we must not seek to teach different people to be the same.

We must not dispute the fact that quality teachers are qualified teachers who possess high ethical standards. Therefore, fostering professional development must be the norm in our education system. The teaching profession must be respected and given appropriate levels of recognition and support.

The voice of the teachers must be solicited and acted upon as it relates to educational policies and issues. Authentic consultation must occur prior to decision making. Messianic expectations are not to be made of teachers.

DEMAND ON GOVERNMENT

As we seek to advance equity, let us insist that education remains a priority on the country's Budget. Parents want their children to learn, to be safe, to be happy and to have a future. The demand on Government must be that ministries, departments and agencies remain committed to the public good. When Government and stakeholders operate in this way, the end result will be that we will perpetually produce children who grow up feeling a sense of belonging, and, by extension, citizens who are convinced that they are valued.

Additionally, our students would have developed a high level of self-confidence without which they are twice defeated in life, to paraphrase the words of National Hero Marcus Garvey. Our students would recognise the need to be lifelong learners who, because their differences are acknowledged and celebrated, would in effect become critical creative thinkers.

The end result would be that we create global citizens confident of their place in their communities, their country and their world. In so doing, we would have empowered the people of this great nation to participate in the building of a cohesive democratic society in which all citizens are able to play their role in the economic, social and political life of Jamaica, land we love.

Mark Nicely is president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.