On school lead­er­ship

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Ronald Th­waites I Ronald Th­waites is mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Cen­tral Kingston and op­po­si­tion spokesman on ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

RE­CENTLY, I had the op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress the As­so­ci­a­tion of Prin­ci­pals and Vice-prin­ci­pals of High Schools in Ja­maica. These are per­sons, mostly women, with re­spon­si­bil­ity for the out­comes of our young peo­ple be­tween grades seven and 13, en­com­pass­ing the teenage years.

As­so­ci­a­tions of prin­ci­pals of all types of schools ought to con­sti­tute pow­er­ful lob­bies for ed­u­ca­tional im­prove­ment. Re­cent at­tempts to broad-brush them as ex­tor­tion­ists are con­temptible.

All of them are ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers who have tran­si­tioned into ad­min­is­tra­tion. They ought to be held ac­count­able to par­ents, the State and their school com­mu­ni­ties. They are ex­pected to re­me­di­ate the per­haps half of their stu­dent body who en­ter with cog­ni­tive, emo­tional or so­cial chal­lenges and to dis­cover and nur­ture the var­ied, in­di­vid­ual tal­ents of all in their care.

They pre­side over teach­ers whose qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but not their qual­ity, are gen­er­ally uni­form. Their power to ad­vance those staff mem­bers who do well and to dis­ci­pline or ex­clude those who per­form poorly is very lim­ited.

The present Ed­u­ca­tion Code is lit­tle help for school man­agers. It is over­ripe for re­form.

I be­lieve all of these school leaders want to do well by their stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ties. The main ob­sta­cle is not so much money but the re­al­ity that most schools are sent stu­dents each year who are not ready for the sec­ondary cur­ricu­lum that high schools have to of­fer.

Yes, not ready af­ter eight years of pre-pri­mary and pri­mary school­ing!

Ex­cept for those so-called tra­di­tional schools that at­tract stu­dents with very high GSAT scores, many prin­ci­pals have to cope with high lev­els of il­lit­er­acy and in­nu­mer­acy among their en­ter­ing stu­dents. And there are many oth­ers in all high schools who come with the bag­gage of be­hav­iour mal­ad­just­ment, bro­ken fam­ily sit­u­a­tions, un­solved nu­tri­tional, phys­i­cal and emo­tional prob­lems, all of which will af­fect their learn­ing re­cep­tiv­ity.

In many re­spects, there­fore, prin­ci­pals and vice-prin­ci­pals are given straw bas­kets to carry wa­ter. It is time they de­mand that en­ter­ing stu­dents have min­i­mum stan­dards of readi­ness for sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.

Fund­ing re­me­di­a­tion pro­grammes, cost­ing bil­lions each year and pro­duc­ing in­dif­fer­ent re­sults, is an in­ef­fi­cient way of solv­ing a prob­lem that should, and could, have been dealt with many years ear­lier.

Mark Rick­etts, in a re­cent Sun­day Gleaner ar­ti­cle, ar­tic­u­lated graph­i­cally the dis­ap­point­ment and vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the thou­sands who leave high school with­out ma­tric­u­la­tion re­quire­ments. Ed­ward Seaga, a week ear­lier, reem­pha­sised how cru­cial the in­fant and early pri­mary ex­pe­ri­ence is to what fol­lows higher up on the ed­u­ca­tional lad­der.

Two prac­ti­cal and af­ford­able mea­sures are needed to curb the rot. By 2018, the re­for­ma­tion of the ear­ly­child­hood sys­tem should be com­plete. In­stead of some 2,600 ba­sic schools, we should have about 800 in­fant schools, each with a spe­cial­ist trained teacher (most of whom can be found with ap­pro­pri­ate re­train­ing, within the ex­ist­ing co­hort), a con­sis­tent nu­tri­tional pro­gramme and, most im­por­tant of all, a cur­ricu­lum fo­cused on char­ac­ter for­ma­tion and ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour.

A con­di­tion of en­rol­ment, as sig­nif­i­cant as the birth or im­mu­ni­sa­tion cer­tifi­cates, must be the cul­ti­va­tion of a bond be­tween par­ent and school.

Once this em­pha­sis is car­ried through the first three pri­mary grades with ap­pro­pri­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties to cor­rect early de­tected chal­lenges, there will be ex­po­nen­tially more able stu­dents en­ter­ing the high-school sys­tem later on.

FAULTY SO­CIAL­I­SA­TION

The raw truth is that faulty or in­ad­e­quate so­cial­i­sa­tion at the ear­ly­child­hood level is the ma­jor ob­sta­cle to achiev­ing trans­formed out­comes from the whole sys­tem. Spend the money and ex­pend the ef­fort at this level rather than wait­ing till de­fi­cien­cies have fes­tered into full-blown prob­lems dur­ing the teenage years.

Since there will al­ways have to be a place for con­duct and com­pe­tency cor­rec­tion, ev­ery high-school stu­dent who shows at­ti­tu­di­nal de­fi­cien­cies should have manda­tory ex­po­sure to uni­formed group dis­ci­pline and train­ing.

Let the prin­ci­pals determine those who need this ex­pe­ri­ence. Ex­ist­ing units of cadets, scouts and other bod­ies can be im­proved or es­tab­lished with in­creased capacity for be­hav­iour mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

What is ob­vi­ous is that the present em­pha­sis of re­me­di­a­tion on re­peat­ing lessons or re­do­ing skills is in­ef­fec­tive be­cause it fails to ad­dress the largely so­cial patholo­gies of many of our young peo­ple.

Our prin­ci­pals de­serve to be heeded, not cowed.

FROM THE BACK BENCH

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