MOE's booklist no threat to teachers' autonomy
Grace McLean, Guest Columnist
In The Sunday Gleaner of June 15, 2014, the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) president, Dr Mark Nicely, raised questions about the method used by the Ministry of Education to place textbooks on the supplementary master list and suggested that teachers were denied involvement in the process.
Dr Nicely is incorrect in his commentary. Here are the facts for the benefit of parents who have been carrying the annual burden of buying textbooks, many of which are never used by teachers during the entire school year.
Taxpayers should know that the Ministry of Education is spending nearly $1 billion this financial year to purchase textbooks that are provided without charge to students in primary schools and loaned to students in secondary schools. So students are already provided with textbooks from grades one to 11. In addition to these texts, the Ministry of Education has always allowed school administrators to place other texts on the booklist schools send to parents.
However, this year, the ministry, in response to parents' outcry about the high cost and non-utilisation of books after purchase, took the decision to reduce the number of supplementary texts that schools place on their booklists. Schools are now required to select books from a master list of titles reviewed and approved by the Ministry of Education.
REVIEW AND APPROVAL
How were the review and approval of the textbooks done? The process began with the collection of booklists from all schools and the involvement of principals and subject teachers in school clusters islandwide providing reasons for the use of books that are common across schools.
The content of these books was then reviewed by a team, including active and retired educators, along with Ministry of Education specialists. The guiding principle for placing books on the approved supplementary master list was that they provided additional information that was not already contained in books supplied under the national book loan scheme. Other considerations include meeting the requirement of specific syllabi, for example, the Grade Six Achievement Test and the grade seven to nine curriculum.
In the final analysis, all the supplementary textbooks that the Ministry of Education placed on the master list resulted from reviewing material that was provided initially by teachers, school administrators, authors, and publishers, inclusive of the JTA's publishing arm.
So it is inaccurate for the JTA president to argue that the professional autonomy of teachers is being abrogated. Furthermore, the ministry has advised school administrators that where the need arises for the use of specialised material, for example, in executing a remedial literacy programme, they should communicate this to education officers or the Media Services Unit in the Ministry of Education.
The ministry further promotes the professional autonomy of teachers by encouraging them to use the wide assortment of resource material available in schools and public libraries, as well as online databases, to supplement textbooks.
There is no need for the JTA to be worried about the professional autonomy of teachers. Let's get on with the job of educating the nation's children, which teachers are sworn to do.
Grace McLean is chief education officer of the Ministry of Education. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.