August 15, 2022
In Part 1, published on July 25, 2022, I summarized some of the issues which were discussed at a forum which was held on July 21, 2022. This initiative was a collaborative effort between the Office of the Vice Chancellor of The University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. The purpose of the forum was to examine the Patterson Commission Report on Jamaica’s education system. I argued that one of the big lessons coming out of the Patterson Commission Report on Jamaica’s education system is the fact that it did not reveal much that is new – either in findings or recommendations. On the contrary the report reiterated several of the findings and recommendations of previous studies, particularly the 2004 Davis Report.
I further argued that the state of Jamaica’s education system constituted an existential threat to the country’s development, and concluded that unless the transformation effort succeeds, Jamaica will not make meaningful progress. Against this background, the question which arises is: Are there some key ingredients for success and if so, what are they?
The panel presentations and ensuing discussions highlighted four (4) key ingredients. These ingredients were mainly articulated by panelist Paul Miller, who is Professor of Educational Leadership and Social Justice and Director of the Institute for Educational and Social Equity.
Clear purpose and direction
Miller argued that the first step to transformation is the articulation of a clear purpose and direction. In expanding on this assertion, Miller cited three Asian countries which had successfully transformed their education systems and which are now among the best globally. These are Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Miller notes that in the case of all three countries, a clear blueprint was articulated, as follows:
- “Singapore – Thinking Schools, Learning Nation. A Vision for 21st Century Singapore. (1997).
- Malaysia – the Education Performance and Delivery Unit (PADU) was set up to support the Ministry of Education in executing the Malaysia Education Blueprint (2013-2025)
- The Philippine Education System: From Colonial to Global Influence, 2013”.
Key Performance Indicators
A second critical element of the success of education reform across the three countries, according to Miller, was that they established Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the education sector. KPIs stipulate the performance standards and high-level attainments an entity wishes to realize. A key element of this is the expectation that each operating unit of a system (in this case each school) is expected to attain these standards and are given the requisite resources to do so.
Organizational behaviours and practices occur within the cultural context of the organization. These behaviours are built up over time and become the way of life and frame of expectation of members of the organization. Attaining higher standards of performance in an organization cannot occur by merely creating new policies, parachuting in new managers, or allocating more funding. There has to be a mindset change, Miller argued. This means that the Ministry of Education, Jamaica, and other Ministries of Education across the region, which are seeking to transform their education sectors, must examine their current cultures and the expectations, perceptions, and mindsets of employees and other stakeholders, and determine whether those cultures can facilitate and support the transformations to be pursued.
In my own experience, sustainable performance improvements can only be realized when cultural notions and ideas of self are aligned to the improvements which are desired. In this regard, decisions on how to behave (including how much effort is put into what needs to be done and achieved), are not driven primarily by external pressures of others’ expectations, but internal motivation of who one is.
An effective process of organizational transformation, which starts with the articulation of a clear purpose and direction, and that gets measured by key performance indicators, is not only rooted in culture change, but will only gain traction if there are effective communication mechanisms. Miller notes that for Malaysia, “… stakeholder engagement was one of the main focuses to get buy-in and to show we can add value.” The Philippines’ report on their success in transforming their education system notes that “…establishing credibility and gaining the trust of stakeholders…” was a primary objective of the process.
One of the distressing realities concerning the Patterson Commission Report is the fact that it has not been the subject of extensive discussion. There is the risk that it could go the way of previous reports. The lessons for Jamaica and the wider Caribbean are clear, when these four key ingredients are considered. While the Report has outlined the problem, the task of the Ministry of Education and the Education Transformation Oversight Committee must now be to:
- articulate the desired direction with clarity
- establish the key performance indicators
- effect culture change to support the attainment of the desired targets
- win the trust of stakeholders through communication.
EDUCATION SYSTEM TRANSFORMATION, TEACHER MIGRATION, AND TEACHER SALARIES IN JAMAICA
One of the major challenges facing Jamaica is teacher migration. The transformation of our education system will depend on a stable and highly trained teaching force. While cross-fertilization, expansion of experience, and hopefully deepening of knowledge and competence may be the result of migration, a high and rapid turnover of staff cannot be good for the education system.
The scope of the problem of migration, and by extension the impact, is disputed by the Minister of Education Fayval Williams, who contends that the level of migration this year (2022) is not any worse than previous years. General reports, however, indicate that the problem has worsened.
The evidence suggests that a major, if not the major contributor to teacher migration from Jamaica is salaries. A look at the salaries for Jamaican teachers may shock some of you. The starting salary of a trained graduate (the highest classification and refers to a graduate with a Teacher’s Diploma and a first degree) is currently $1,351,309 (with effect from April 2021), up from $1,299,336. At the top of the scale, the salary is $1,679,822 (with effect from April 2021), up from $1,615,213. Only a small fraction of teachers is at the top of the scale. The mid-point of the scale is about $1.5M, which is about where most teachers are likely to be. This means that the average teacher in Jamaica earns $125,000.00 per month and with the tax-free threshold being $1.5M, the taxes imposed would be about 5% (for Education Tax and National Housing Trust and National Insurance contributions). Thus, the take-home salary is about $118,750.00 per month, which translates to about $30,000.00 per week.
If we assume that rent or mortgage is about $30,000.00 per month, the remaining $90,000.00 or $22,500.00 per week cannot buy basic groceries and household supplies for a family of two. Car loan payments or bus fare, personal care, lunch money for a child going to school are not factored. The big question then is: how do teachers manage?
A recent United Nations (UN) study found, unsurprisingly, that two-thirds of the Jamaican population cannot afford a single healthy meal per day. With teachers representing one of the largest groups of public sector workers, and given what they earn, the UN study represents a stark reflection of a painful reality.
A look at teacher salaries in some of the jurisdictions which recruit Jamaican teachers tells us a lot. In North Carolina, one of the most popular destinations, the average salary is USD $4,500.00 or about JMD $675,000.00. The average $1.5M here in Jamaica is 22% of that. Expressed differently the salary in the North Carolina is more than four times the salary in Jamaica. In Singapore, the average salary of a teacher is about S$4,000.00 per month, the equivalent of JMD $440,000.00, or about three times the average salary of teachers in Jamaica. In Malaysia, the average salary paid to a teacher is the equivalent of USD $1,500.00 per month, or about JMD$225,000.00, just under twice the average of Jamaican teachers.
Based on my interaction with many teachers, migration is driven largely by financial considerations and secondly by working conditions. In order to attract and retain the best, the government of Jamaica will have to invest HEAVILY in improving educational infrastructure and working conditions as well as in salaries. A minimum of a 100% increase over a two-year period is, in my view, an urgent step. In addition, the Ministry of Education will have to improve its talent pool. Short of these investments, the talk of transformation will, unfortunately, remain a pipe dream.
Dr. Canute Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of two award-winning books and articles, among his collection seven books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website.