A Call for Public Discussion of our Educational System and its Transformation

Editor’s Note: The report of the Jamaica Educational Transformation Commission (JETC) has been submitted. To date, there has been very little public debate on the report. However, some commentators have expressed concern that the report has fallen short of expectations.  In this contributed piece, Dr. Louis Moyston, a historian, equity advocate, and educational consultant, shares his perspective. This publication is a redaction of a longer paper prepared by Dr. Moyston  

A Call for Public Discussion of our Educational System and its Transformation

Fifty-nine years after Independence Day the Jamaican government set up a high-profile commission to offer recommendations to transform the educational system of Jamaica. The call for transformation is welcome, however I am not sure the recommendations of the 2021 Jamaica Educational Transformation Commission (JETC), given its composition and terms of reference, will transform anything. Its terms of reference are no different from the 2004 Task Force on Educational Reform.

Sometime ago, Prime Minister Andrew Holness named a group of businessmen, who had no experience in either science or education, to lead the thrust for the science technology and mathematics (STEM) project. Similarly, the government is asking the private sector to lead reform in education without due regard to the specialists in the area or the particular needs of our society. Education is public good and not private goods. It is against this background that I call for public discussion on this 2021 JETC Report before its recommendations are implemented.

The History of “Reform”

Since the Negro Education Act of 1835, there have been several school inspector investigations and commissions. These continued into the 1940s. Immediately after public education was launched by the Act of 1835, the Rev. John Sterling was sent from England to Jamaica and instructed to examine the development of public education under the leadership and control of the church. He was critical of the level of teacher training; he was strongly in favour of the church being in control of teaching and education and the advancement of the primacy of religious studies.

In 1840, the British government sent school inspector Mr. C.J. Latrobe to Jamaica; he also gave an unfavourable report on the system of teacher training and on the quality of teachers. During the most unsettling years of the post-1865 period another inspector of school John Savage brought with him a new Code of Education; he pointed out that in addition to practical instructions, schools should provide good moral training for the children of the lower classes.

Commissions in the 20th and 21st centuries

In the 20th century changes in education continued especially during the 1970s. However,  a turning point occurred in 2004 when the Patterson administration set up a  Task Force on Educational Reform: Jamaica A Transformed Education System. The intent was good but not good enough to transform the system. There were problems regarding the exclusion of classroom teachers and also the lack of relevant philosophical perspective.

In 2021, the current Prime Minister announced the formation of a high-powered Jamaica Education Transformation Committee (JETC). As with the 2004 Task Force on Educational Reform the terms of reference of the 21st century JETC limited considerably the potential for real change. There is a common trend in both Reports in that: neither emphasizes the teaching of history, philosophy or sociology, both the displayed an absence of rigorous and active research and, the failure to invite the participation of classroom teachers. Both reports appear to confuse the meaning of transformation with reform.

The 2021 JETC responded to the mandate of the Prime Minister and in a nutshell concluded, among many things, that the outdated Education Code and teaching methodologies have not been able to deliver the educational and training requirements for the workforce of the 21st century. In a similar tone the 2004 Task Force Educational Reform report informs that “the educational revolution occasioned by globalisation is enshrined by a plethora of educational conventions (foreign) and international and regional trade agreements”.

There are other similarities in both reports. Firstly, the lack of adequate literary sources such as previous research on the problems, barriers to quality improvement and, relevant  education in Jamaica. Secondly, there is an over reliance on  material from international institutions such as the World Bank, UNESCO, World Trade Organisation and USAID among others. This is a Jamaican and not a global problem. It is quite a display of intellectual dependency, and perhaps slothfulness, that is pervasive in our experience. The projects struck  me, and this is particularly so of the report in 2021, as a massive arm chair research inquiry as opposed to an active field research  process  involving interviews with classroom teachers, educational researchers and CXC examiners. These are the major frontline workers in education; they possess critical experience on the problems and barriers in the present-day system of education in Jamaica and can offer solutions. It is important to note that there are extensive research papers on matters concerning poor academic performance in Jamaica especially in areas such as English language, mathematics, and science courses.

History: the idea and practice

Given Jamaica’s history from slavery to the present, a new philosophy of education is required to enable students (and citizens generally) to face the reality of self-definition. In this way they will understand the politics of the Jamaican society and their civic responsibility. They will develop an understanding of what is happening in the global society and how to prepare themselves to face the challenges of the future and present. Jamaica, because of its history of slavery and colonialism, has not had the benefit of positive cultural, social, and political values being passed down from one generation to another in a natural way.

It is important to understand the relationship between education, self-awareness, social justice, and social cohesion. This will only be possible by embracing a new thinking in education. The present system of education is authoritarian, it inhibits students’ capacity to be critical, to be creative and to be innovative; students in later life, having been educated in such a manner are, as citizens, unable to be problem solvers as the ability and confidence to critically analyse is lacking.

Culture and hegemony

Language is most critical in the process of teaching and learning. One of the most fundamental problems in the Jamaican educational system, results from the fact most children entering into public early childhood and primary schools speak Patois. So, the issue here is not whether you focus on sixth form or early childhood, it is about taking the language problem in education most seriously. It is indeed, an injustice to teach children in a language they do not fully comprehend or in some cases are entirely ignorant. This dual language system of education is a product of British hegemony that under-pinned its civilising process.

My recommendation is simple, teach English as a second language to Patois speaking students. It is important to note that there is a large body of speakers of Jamaican Standard English who do not have a full grasp of the English language. A very high percentage, over 40%, of incoming students to the University of the West Indies, Mona and the University of Technology fail their English entrance examination. Language is more than grammar, sentences and paragraph construction. It is about logic, reasoning, critical and creative thinking.

The purpose of education

It is clear that the JTEC 2021 defines education in terms of preparing students for the prevailing workforce. This outlook is similar to the 19th century colonial practical education which aimed to prepare labourers for the plantation. It is not really any different to call for competency based education so as to prepare workers for the prevailing labour demand. Competency based education is based on the principle that “skill is power” . However, I submit this is not so in a world of multiple scientific revolutions in which “knowledge is power”.

Technical and vocational education (TVET) in Jamaica led by the HEART Trust is grounded in competency-based education. It is about higher skilling and not higher learning. It is associated with comprehension/recall, the lowest scale on the cognitive scale. This system of education also neglects the integration of science and scientific literature and literacy. This is lacking in TVET education and training. If the HEART Trust is criticised for not having the ability to produce world class workers, then why recycle this outdated approach to TVET in Jamaica? TVET education must have the ability to develop students who have scientific skills and ideas of experimentation and, the capacity to become creative, innovative, and responsible citizens.

This new system of education should prepare teachers to be guides and research supervisors, to instruct students into problem solving inquiries. Under the influence of the new philosophy teachers would be inspired to become agents of social change; they should also introduce students to the major problems facing their country and also the global society. Having an appreciation for the interdisciplinary, students will be able to examine critically the prevailing social, economic, and political problems as well as future trends in the national and global spheres and make wise life choices.

Teacher training

There can be no transformation of education in Jamaica unless the frontline workers, the classroom teachers, play a central role in the process. Both the 2004 Report on Educational Reform and the 2021 JETC Report neglected the participation of the classroom teacher in the research process. They made a call for the “professionalization” of teachers by way of a licensing regime; and even suggested arresting teachers working without license.

Professionalization of members of the teaching profession requires more than a licensing regime. It begins with profound changes in the teaching and learning systems of the teacher training colleges. There is the need to go beyond the narrow confines of pedagogy and psychology and include other disciplines such as law, the constitution, history, sociology, and philosophy and research methods with a view of taking teacher training to a higher level.

Transformation and education

What is transformation of education? Teachers ought to embrace critical theory that will allow them to uncover the barriers to quality education, and also to use the new knowledge acquired to solve the problems that exist inside and outside of the school. Transforming education involves teaching for transformation, which is associated with developing intellectual capacity to apprehend and apply this transformative theory.

The process of transformation is also fostered by the development of a new knowledge base, a critical factor in the professionalisation of the teachers. Teaching for transformation thrives in a setting that encourages critique and rewards intellectual openness; the teaching strategies associated with transformative education are guided by critical reflection and critical discourses.

Teaching is a process of continuous education and classroom teachers must participate in research of the everyday-lived experience in the classroom; research and research presentations will contribute also to the improvement of their professional qualities. Teachers will become activists for social change, a quality that will have a lasting positive impact on students. Transformation of education is a process led by classroom teachers and educational researchers,  not by the dictates of high-powered commissions.

Louis E.A. Moyston, PhD


1 thought on “A Call for Public Discussion of our Educational System and its Transformation”

  1. Delores Forsythe

    I agree with you Sir, teachers must be part of the transformation. How can you be talking about education and exempt teachers who are up and personal in the field.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *