A-Mus­ings

Mus­ings are thoughts, the thought­ful kind. For the pur­pose of these ar­ti­cles, a-mus­ings are thoughts that might amuse, en­ter­tain and even en­lighten.

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Michael Walker

An Open Let­ter to Gale – Part 3

As I was say­ing last week, teach­ing ma­te­ri­als in their thou­sands are to be found on­line free of charge. There are even more that can be sub­scribed to. Pub­lish­ers to­day of­fer in­di­vid­ual, lo­cal and na­tional on­line sub­scrip­tions for their ma­te­ri­als that are much more ef­fi­cient than their pa­per prod­ucts. And think of all the rain forests that will be saved thanks to this! In ad­di­tion, a spe­cial bonus is that pub­lish­ers can of­fer di­ag­nos­tic, self-cor­rect­ing tests on­line that make the job of teach­ers even more ef­fi­cient. It’s sad, I agree, but books in schools have had it. Their time is past. Even in­vet­er­ate book lovers like me have to re­alise that books can be read on Kin­dles and other de­vices that can carry a whole li­brary. You still have to read even though your pages are on a screen.

Such a revo­lu­tion has to hap­pen once we be­gin to think com­put­ers in schools. And what is the best way to sup­port com­put­er­i­sa­tion in schools? With com­put­ers, (I use the word ‘com­put­ers’ to cover all forms of smart­phones, tablets, pads, laptops, desk­tops, etc.), ob­vi­ously, but we also have to en­sure suit­able con­tent that re­quires com­put­ers to be used. Pa­per books don’t do this. On­line books do. Sec­ondly, in or­der to avoid re­dun­dan­cies and to safe­guard knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence we have to use the re­sources avail­able in a new ex­cit­ing way, which is where CAMDU and its cur­ricu­lum spe­cial­ists come in. By utilising CAMDU’s re­sources we pro­tect em­ploy­ees from re­dun­dancy, make use of their skills and knowl­edge, and en­sure a steady sup­ply of qual­ity ma­te­ri­als that can be down­loaded, saved and cat­a­logued for fur­ther use, thus transforming CAMDU from a mori­bund en­tity on the side­lines into a vi­brant, ef­fi­cient, mo­tor for the is­land’s ed­u­ca­tion ma­chin­ery. And the costs will be min­i­mal.

So what’s next to ad­dress? I have vis­ited all the District Of­fices at one time or an­other and I have to say that there is a vast dif­fer­ence in the qual­ity of the build­ings that house them and the ameni­ties that are avail­able, which clearly would af­fect the qual­ity of ser­vice pro­vided to teach­ers and schools. In ad­di­tion, I have never re­ally un­der­stood what District Of­fices and their Of­fi­cers are sup­posed to do, which is why I would like to add a few words on this topic. Firstly I be­lieve that it is of para­mount im­por­tance that the of­fices should be of the same high qual­ity in each district in or­der to de­liver the re­quired ser­vices, in­clud­ing ap­pro­pri­ate con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties and sec­re­tar­ial staff. I would sug­gest that the role of District Of­fi­cers be de­fined and mon­i­tored. If there is not al­ready a Head District Of­fi­cer based at the min­istry in con­trol of the pro­gramme then there should be. Self­mon­i­tor­ing sel­dom works.

I would charge District Of­fi­cers with the fol­low­ing: 1) Gen­eral su­per­vi­sion of district schools; 2) Monthly mon­i­tor­ing of district schools via site vis­its; 3) Spon­ta­neous spotchecks on lessons in class­rooms; 4) Monthly in-Ser­vice train­ing and in­for­ma­tion meet­ings at the district of­fice. These would be held on dif­fer­ent days of the month to al­low the same pro­gramme to be run in each district through­out the month; 5) Daily tele­phone calls to prin­ci­pals to ad­dress on­go­ing is­sues. These should be logged on­line; 6) Once-monthly meet­ings at the min­istry level to plan and re­port events, ac­tions and cor­rec­tions, which would give struc­ture to the na­tional pro­gramme. I am sure there’s lots more, but this is just a be­gin­ning. It wouldn’t sur­prise me if ev­ery­thing I have men­tioned were al­ready in place but, if it is, I’m not sure it’s work­ing prop­erly.

You might have no­ticed that one of the first things I said about district of­fices was the need for good, clean, mis­sion ap­pro­pri­ate build­ings to house the fa­cil­ity. Well, if that is true about district of­fices, it has to be a thou­sand times more im­por­tant to have good, clean, safe schools, but I will come to them in the next in­stall­ment of this let­ter. For to­day, I would like to con­cen­trate on the most im­por­tant rooms in any school: the rooms for the staff. A happy staff cre­ates a happy en­vi­ron­ment, which in turn leads to a happy, suc­cess­ful school. Af­ter over 45 years of vis­it­ing schools in Saint Lu­cia I can safely say that the hy­giene stinks, the com­fort is nonex­is­tent, the learn­ing/teach­ing en­vi­ron­ment is de­plorable, and ba­si­cally noth­ing has changed in al­most half a cen­tury. Bring kids up in a pigsty and they will be­have like pigs.

The least one would re­quire of a nor­mal school is a staff room that 1) is well lit, 2) is well ven­ti­lated, 3) is in­su­lated against the el­e­ments, 4) has ad­e­quate, com­fort­able seat­ing, 5) per­haps has air con­di­tion­ing, 6) has ac­com­mo­da­tion for study, prepa­ra­tion of lessons and mark­ing of pa­pers, 7) has ad­e­quate, clean, func­tion­ing toi­let and wash­ing fa­cil­i­ties, 8) is cleaned daily by des­ig­nated staff, 9) is well-main­tained, 10) has lock­ers with locks for staff mem­bers, 11) has sec­re­tar­ial op­por­tu­ni­ties like copiers, com­put­ers, 12) has quiet ar­eas for re­lax­ation and med­i­ta­tion. Make sure your staff has this min­i­mum of com­fort and you will find that the suc­cess rate of our schools will in­crease dra­mat­i­cally. Just ac­cept that in this case the teach­ers come first. I’ll ex­plain why next week.

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