Sunday, June 7, 2009


Jamaica Gleaner Online

School heads fail - Holness slams primary school principals for poor-quality education

Published: Sunday | June 7, 2009

Tyrone Reid, Staff Reporter

Andrew Holness, Minister of Education - File

Education Minister Andrew Holness has given several primary school principals an 'F' on their report cards for failing to ensure that top-quality education is provided to students under their care. However, this grade is being challenged by president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), Doran Dixon.

The principals came in for a 'flogging' from the education minister after the country's national report on the status of its Millennium Development Goals highlighted that the quality of the education being provided at the primary level was a problem. This is despite the nation achieving universal access to education at that level.

nat'l report next month

The national report is to be presented to the United Nations Economic and Social Council's annual ministerial review in Geneva next month,

In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Dr Pauline Knight, director of social policy, planning and research at the Planning Institute of Jamaica, painted a disturbing picture of the problem in primary education.

She said that many children leave primary school ill-prepared for the secondary level.

"The facts are that a large percentage of children leave primary school without being able to read or write," said Knight.

She stressed that the poor-quality education being offered at the primary level has consequences that extend to the working world and the university level, where some students still have difficulties with the English language.

"And, all of this starts from the primary school, because this is where the foundation is laid. And without the proper foundation, it puts extra burden on the higher levels of the system."

buck stops with principals

Holness maintains that the buck stops with the principals. In scolding the heads of the state-operated schools, the education minister said deficient management was the main reason for the poor-quality instruction being offered to the students.

"The quality issue stems from poor leadership at the school level. That is number one," Holness told The Sunday Gleaner.

He added: "We are grappling with the issues of quality. But, when you start to talk about quality, then you have to bring in the issues of accountability."

That is why, the minister says, he supports a system where teachers' efforts are matched to outcomes.

But this does not mean that Holness believes the proposed performance-based pay is the answer to the quality ills rocking the education sector.

According to the education minister, it would be "very difficult" to peg pay to performance in the education sector.

He was, therefore, reluctant to commit his support to the much-debated performance-based pay proposal.

caught in a difficult place

The JTA president rejected the minister's position that the principals were the primary reason for the pitiable results plaguing government-run elementary schools.

"There are clear instances where, even with the best of intentions, some principals are caught in a difficult place because they don't have the basic resources with which to work," Dixon said.

According to him, poverty is the principal problem. He argued that poverty affected children's nutrition and, by extension, their ability to attend school prepared for learning.

In addition, the JTA president argued that poverty limited the capacity of parents to provide meaningful contributions, financial and otherwise, to the school community.

"The poverty affects everything. You can't underestimate the issue of poverty; it is crucial," he said.

Dixon also argued that poor physical conditions and overcrowding of classrooms also robbed value from the quality of education being provided within the walls of primary schools.

"When you have a school where the rooms are still partitioned by chalkboard; when you have a primary class of 50 and over, it really doesn't help in the fight towards quality education," Dixon contended.

Conceded Holness: "There is still infrastructure work to be done."

not gov't inadequacies

However, Holness insisted that the ill-equipped students leaving the state-owned schools did not reflect inadequacies on the Government's side. "It is not an indictment in so far as Government's policy was to improve access," he argued.

The minister pledged that during the decade ahead, the spotlight would be turned directly on the quality of education at the primary stage.

Students at Jessie Ripoll Primary, one of the top-performing schools in the Corporate Area. - file


What I find absolutely fascinating is that one of the poorest nations in the world has many of the same problems that I have observed in the richest nation in the world.

I want to make clear that in South Florida I researched and studied this issue, visited the schools and sat in on classes, examined the education bureaucracy and spoke to a wide cross section of teachers.

Can it be that the problem is simple, the primacy of culture, that human beings where ever they live on Planet Earth shared the same culture that created a ubiquitous, pervasive social system worldwide; and, what we are witnessing is that culture, "the conscious and unconscious premises for thinking and action inventing and reinventing itself to perpetuate the status quo?

I invite comments; and, if there is anyone in this group who has hands on experience with education in the USA to indicate that.

I would like to tell you that I do believe that this is the real issue with regard to long term development in the USA or Jamaica.

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