Education pol­icy on the f ly

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY - Paulton Frank­son Guest Colum­nist

IT HAS be­come clear that Min­is­ter of Education Ruel Reid does not have a proper con­cep­tion of the pol­i­cy­mak­ing process and has sur­ren­dered the wis­dom of tech­nocrats to that of me­di­acrats. His de­sire to al­ways be seen in a pos­i­tive light in the me­dia has seen him for­mu­late pol­icy po­si­tions on con­tro­ver­sial is­sues with­out the proper anal­y­sis that should in­form pol­icy.

In his at­tempt to re­spond to ev­ery item of news or neg­a­tive story about the education sec­tor, Reid has not only side­lined the staff within the Ministry of Education but has evolved into a dic­ta­tor of sorts who seems to want to si­lence any­one who does not agree with him. The sep­a­ra­tion of Dr Mau­rice Smith from his post as per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in the Ministry of Education is the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of his lead­er­ship deficit.

Most, if not all, of the dec­la­ra­tions of pol­icy that have been spewed by Reid do not ap­pear to have been based on re­search iden­ti­fy­ing root causes and lead­ing to de­sign of a suite of so­lu­tions to ad­dress prob­lems ef­fec­tively. The re­ac­tionary ap­proach which Reid has taken to education pol­icy does not au­gur well for the frag­ile re­form process which has taken place in the ministry through the Education Sys­tem Trans­for­ma­tion Pro­gramme.

By a cur­sory count, Reid has made about 10 such pol­icy dec­la­ra­tions since be­com­ing min­is­ter and each has been the re­sult of his need to con­stantly tit­il­late those in the me­dia who are at his heels bay­ing for im­me­di­ate re­sponses to is­sues which re­ally de­mand silent ac­tion and long-term strategic ap­proaches. In­stead of tak­ing the long view, Reid is all too happy to give in to the sen­sa­tion­al­ist ap­proach so cher­ished by the me­dia.

When school ad­min­is­tra­tors at Pen­wood High were neg­li­gent in their re­spon­si­bil­ity to sub­mit stu­dents’ School-Based As­sess­ments to the Caribbean Ex­am­i­na­tions Coun­cil (CXC), he de­clared war on the re­gional ex­am­i­na­tion body and the Over­seas Ex­am­i­na­tion Com­mis­sion, call­ing into dis­re­pute the cred­i­bil­ity of two in­sti­tu­tions that have served us well, all in a bid to be seen as a hero.

News of the poor per­for­mance of stu­dents in math­e­mat­ics is also an­other ex­am­ple where Reid’s re­ac­tion to me­dia re­ports has sab­o­taged the pol­i­cy­mak­ing process. He swiftly an­nounced the es­tab­lish­ment of a Math­e­mat­ics Con­sor­tium when a National Math­e­mat­ics Com­mit­tee al­ready ex­ists. Not only has the National Math­e­mat­ics Com­mit­tee al­ready done all of the things Reid has pro­posed that the con­sor­tium will do, but they have ac­tu­ally de­vel­oped a National Math­e­mat­ics Pol­icy Guide­line and the

at­ten­dant work plan to drive im­prove­ments in math­e­mat­ics per­for­mance across the education sys­tem. If Reid had taken the time to speak with of­fi­cials in the ministry, he would have re­alised that so­lu­tions are al­ready be­ing im­ple­mented for the prob­lems be­ing re­gur­gi­tated by the me­dia.

QUICK FIXES

Education pol­icy so­lu­tions take time, and par­tic­u­larly in re­gards to stu­dent per­for­mance, there re­ally are no quick fixes, so this ten­dency of the education min­is­ter to de­liver mi­crowave so­lu­tions is quite wor­ry­ing. That Math­e­mat­ics Con­sor­tium he has set up is just a du­pli­ca­tion that will not yield much re­sults. The poor per­for­mance in math­e­mat­ics is well stud­ied and the so­lu­tions were al­ready be­ing im­ple­mented through the National Math­e­mat­ics Pro­gramme. While there are rea­son­able grounds to ques­tion the re­sults be­ing achieved by the pro­gramme, its ba­sic phi­los­o­phy was de­signed on sound ev­i­dence that in­di­cates the poor per­for­mance in math­e­mat­ics is driven by the gen­er­ally poor ped­a­gogy and ques­tion­able com­pe­tence of math­e­mat­ics teach­ers. The National Math­e­mat­ics Pro­gramme sought to ad­dress this prob­lem by as­sign­ing coaches who work with teach­ers to im­prove class­room de­liv­ery. The re­search on the ef­fec­tive­ness of coach­ing of teach­ers as a tool to im­prove the teach­ing and learn­ing of math­e­mat­ics is abun­dant and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble for Reid to have looked at be­fore declar­ing that he will be chang­ing the pro­gramme to have the coaches tar­get the stu­dents in­stead of the teach­ers.

The prob­lem is not with the stu­dents, but with how the sub­ject is be­ing taught. Not only will a change of this na­ture de­rail the progress that has been made un­der the pro­gramme, but it will prove to be lo­gis­ti­cally im­prob­a­ble given that the 45 math­e­mat­ics coaches will be stretched thin if they are re­quired to ser­vice the more than 200,000 stu­dents in the se­condary sys­tem.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the sup­posed re­moval of aux­il­iary fees has proven to be noth­ing more than a grand pop­ulist stunt. With a name change to non-oblig­a­tory con­tri­bu­tion, par­ents are still be­ing en­cour­aged to pay fees, which they clearly have no prob­lem do­ing, given that the com­pli­ance rate for col­lec­tion fell only six per cent after the new pol­icy of no manda­tory fees was in­tro­duced. Given that we are en­ter­ing a new IMF agree­ment, he will be hard­pressed to keep up this cha­rade of sub­si­dis­ing fees al­ready be­ing paid by par­ents and put­ting a strain on the Gov­ern­ment’s purse.

The pro­posal by Reid to en­shrine se­condary education as a right is also ill-ad­vised. The prac­tice of cream­ing stu­dents is per­haps the great­est hin­drance to stu­dent rights in the se­condary education sys­tem. Cream­ing sys­tem­at­i­cally de­nies stu­dents an op­por­tu­nity to sit ex­ter­nal exam, which are usu­ally a pre­dic­tor of eco­nomic suc­cess and up­ward so­cial mo­bil­ity. How can Reid then talk about se­condary education as a right when he has pub­licly sup­ported cream­ing stu­dents? He should seek to ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal is­sues af­fect­ing the education sec­tor rather than con­tinue this dan­ger­ous prac­tice of mak­ing education pol­icy on the fly.

Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and paulton.frank­son@gmail.com.

RU­DOLPH BROWN/PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Ruel Reid, the min­is­ter of education.

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