August 9, 2022
Scope of the Report
Over the years, numerous reports have been commissioned to address the problems plaguing Jamaica’s education system. These reports have highlighted several issues in the sector which require swift actions, however, there has been a continuous failure on the part of successive governments to act on the recommendations contained in these reports. Consequently, the results reaped from these commissions are always the same. This continuous failure now calls for the powers that be to rethink the philosophy that guides the principles employed in how the country plans, who is involved in the planning, how the plans are implemented, monitored, and evaluated and what is considered to be the vision that will set positive changes in the education system. In July 2020, Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, in an effort to conduct yet another education reform, launched the Education Transformation Commission 2020, which was tasked with reviewing and assessing the country’s public education system.
The findings from this latest report, which was completed in 2021 and made public in early 2022, exposed many of the deep-rooted issues we have been facing in the education system. These issues identified include challenges with the following: governance and management, curriculum, teaching, and learning, as well as teacher quality. These matters, without a doubt, have been negatively affecting our education system, and by extension our country’s economic prospects. Additionally, the report, having identified these same issues from previous reports, has made it abundantly clear that the education system, and by extension the country, is not moving forward. Earlier recommendations should have long been implemented, therefore allowing the analysis from this report to unearth other issues emerging from the monitoring of previously implemented recommendations from earlier reports. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The report presented much of the same issues, with similar recommendations from previous reports. Now, if one is not careful, the repetitive nature of these reports, coupled with the fact that the government constantly makes requests for them without first having fully implemented, monitored and evaluated the recommendations from previous reports, gives the impression that the government lacks the political will to complete this needed reform in our education system.
Issues related to the Primary Education level
The issues at the primary level are numerous. We face grave challenges in the areas of resources, teacher/student ratio, student attendance, parental involvement, shortage or non-availability of specialist teachers, and quality teachers. These issues significantly contribute to the bigger problem of poor performance among students. It was not surprising that the report declared that the system was failing at this level. However, there is a major shortcoming in the report, in that it did not provide a detailed analysis of the level. A comprehensive report of an education system should provide distinct sections and subsections for each level. It would have been expected that the section for the primary level should outline the failures, the possible reasons for the failures, as well as policy solutions and recommendations that will improve teaching and learning at this very critical level.
The report made many practical (general) recommendations to address the challenges faced by the education sector. Though there were many recommendations, there was no clear distinction about which recommendations are for the primary level. From my perspective, some of these recommendations are applicable to the primary level. The following are two such.
Recommendation TP3: Consider how incentives can be strategically utilized to attract, retain, fill gaps, and improve quality in the teaching profession.
This recommendation encouraged the government to place a higher value on human resources which should go beyond salary and hiring. The government must provide comprehensive and continuous training and support, a motivating environment as well as adequate resources, to ensure that teachers meet and exceed expectations in their performance. As such, I was pleased that this recommendation was made. However, the government has failed to act upon this recommendation as evidenced by the recent negative experience teachers have been facing with the non-payment of salaries for summer school as well as frequent delays in implementing agreed decisions following salary negotiations. If the government wants to prove that it is serious about this recommendation, it could have used these two opportunities to demonstrate good will.
Recommendation TG9: Ensure teachers and schools are adequately resourced to deliver online teaching.
I agree wholeheartedly with this recommendation especially after the problems we experienced during our online schooling. It is an excellent initiative to allow our education system to make that transition towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution. However, there should be a recommendation to address learning resources in general, namely, textbooks, furniture, sporting equipment, and other resources needed to carry out the physical art of teaching and learning. Quality teachers with a curriculum beautifully aligned to the needs of society, as mentioned in another recommendation, is just a start. If other resources needed to carry out the teaching and learning process are limited or nonexistent as it is in some cases, the desired objectives will not be met.
Proposed mechanisms for implementation
While the recommendations provided are workable solutions, they appear designed to be implemented solely by the technocrats, and not by those at the school level. One must be cognizant that teachers are the catalyst of the education system, and we do not want a repeat of what happened with the 2004 Education Taskforce Report and Vision 2030, the contents of which are not known by many educators.
I did a survey among my colleagues from various primary schools to ascertain whether they knew of the Patterson Report. For this survey I asked ten educators, which included principals, vice principals and classroom teachers, about the report in order to get an understanding of their perceptions. Interestingly, five of the ten educators knew nothing about the report, and one thought I was talking about The Most Honorable PJ Patterson instead of Professor Orlando Patterson. Three educators knew about the report, but had not read the document, and two perused the document. The question therefore is, how will the system improve when educators, the primary stakeholders, are not aware of it? Therefore, the Ministry of Education needs to now rethink its strategy for building awareness about the report.
Additionally, the employment and involvement of qualified and certified individuals in the sector is vital to the success of the system as was indicated previously. However, I must state that this focus should not only be placed on educational institutions, but also within the Ministry of Education’s offices and departments as well as the committees that will oversee the transformation process. Political interference in the employment of staff in the ministry should be eradicated. Employment of persons should be based on qualification and competence rather than political affiliation. If the leadership of our education system does not carry out its jobs efficiently, then those at the bottom will be negatively impacted.
Ms. Deatricia Ming is a trained teacher who has been working at the Primary level for fifteen years and just completed her master’s degree in Educational Planning and Policy at the University of the West Indies. This article is a redacted and lightly edited version of the presentation made by Ms. Ming at the Vice Chancellor’s Forum, put on by the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, on July 21, 2022.