TIME TO THINK AGAIN
THE NORMA DARLINGTON FOUNDER’S DAY LECTURE 2013
Mr. Chairman and members of the Board; Dr. Christopher Clarke, Acting Principal and members of staff; colleague teachers from other institutions; invited guests and members of the entire Shortwood Teachers’ College community, it is indeed a great honour and deep privilege to be asked to deliver the 23rd annual Norma Darlington Founders’ Day Lecture. Mrs. Norma Darlington is a revered colleague and dear friend for whom I have the highest respect and regard.
Luther Vandross maintained that love will be better, better than ever, the second time around. For your sake let us hope that what applies to love applies equally to lectures. In 1992 I delivered the Norma Darlington Founders’ Day Lecture; hence, this is my second time around. The title of that 1992 Lecture was “Elementary School Teachers and the Liberation of Women”, in which I referenced Shortwood’s place in that history in Jamaica. Having published ‘Men at Risk’ in 1991, the Shortwood Founders’ Day Lecture in 1992 gave me the opportunity to address the other side of the coin.
Since retiring from the Electoral Commission at the end of last year, apart from being close to my family, I have been taking a closer and more reflective look at Jamaican education and the changes effected since the peoples’ representatives took over the reins of control of our education system. I, therefore, welcome this opportunity given to me by Dr. Clarke and the organising committee to address the issue of the transformation of education and the role of teacher education, with the latitude to approach the topic as I see fit. The focus chosen is reflected in the title: “Education Transformation and Teacher Education in Jamaica: Time to Think Again”.
Before proceeding to address the topic I need to make two observations. Over the twelve years that I was chairman of the Electoral Body I muzzled myself in speaking about matters outside of the electoral system in order to avoid even the appearance that I favoured the policies of one political party over the other. Having retired I have removed that muzzle, not to become partisan but rather to critically address issues without any concern for those who routinely interpret everything through political lenses.
Second, I have also been afforded the honour to give a keynote address at the inaugural Teacher Education Research Conference of the Teachers’ Colleges of Jamaica in just about one month’s time. The theme of that conference is ‘Fifty years of Teacher Education: Lessons for the 21st Century Educator.’ Given the enormity and interrelationship between both topics, in this Lecture, I will focus on the issue of education transformation with special reference to Shortwood as an institution. At the Education Research Conference, I will focus on teacher education and teacher educators.
DEFINITION OF TRANSFORMATION AND THE STRUCTURE OF THE LECTURE
Transformation is the state or the instance of being transformed. To be transformed is to be radically or substantially or dramatically or thoroughly, or profoundly changed in form, appearance or character. In a nutshell, a transformation is not ordinary everyday change that is hardly noticed. It is an extraordinary change in becoming and being.
By definition, a transformation has to be understood and recognised historically. Without knowing the previous form, appearance or character it is not possible to comprehend the profound, substantial and thorough change that occurs. Additionally, an educational transformation is better understood when a comparative perspective is added to the history because of the profound, radical and substantial change is then placed in its societal and global context. Further, social and educational transformations are best understood when the teleological perspective is added to the historical and comparative. This is because the transformation is a life force. Transformation is driven and directed either by a genetic template or by purposeful and intentional human choices, individual or collective, including their unintentional consequences. I will, therefore, be employing this three-dimensional framework in discussing education transformation in Jamaica.
My starting point of the historical perspective is 1950. That is just before Ministerial government when the elected representatives of the people assumed responsibilities of governance. This is in order to establish the colonial legacy bequeathed to us. I will then follow with a brief description of the reforms of education implemented by the Ministry of Education in the 60 years since its establishment in 1953.
The comparative perspective will be explored with a brief synopsis of where Jamaican education stands within the Commonwealth Caribbean and globally in 2013.
The teleological dimension will be discussed in reference to the major objectives stated in the Report of the Task Force on Education Transformation of 2004.
I will conclude with a brief charge to Shortwood in the way forward.
JAMAICAN EDUCATION IN 1950
The government, through the Department of Education, owned and operated about 30 infant schools, which were free. However, most of the early childhood education offered was through the fee-paying kindergartens or prep schools, independent kindergartens privately owned or by well-meaning females largely engaged in childcare. Only about 40 percent of the 4 to 6 age cohort received any form of early childhood education.
The Department of Education also managed the elementary school system which catered to the mass of the population. Elementary schools were free. Elementary schools were organized by Standards: one to six. Students entered at age 7 and had to leave after age 14. Students were promoted from one standard to the next based on meeting the criteria of the Standard. Most students reached 15 years or left before reaching Standard Six. Those elementary school students desiring to obtain some form of education credential sat the First, Second and Third Year Local Examinations designed as the entry qualification to teachers’ colleges or for being employed as Pupil-Teachers.
Somewhat parallel to the elementary schools were the fee-paying private preparatory schools. Their students entered at age 4. Many of these schools were owned and operated by trusts and churches but a significant number were operated by private individuals. Most preparatory school students went on to high schools. The total enrolment at the elementary level, public and private, was about 77 percent of the 7 to 14 age cohort.
There were two government-owned high schools: Jamaica College and Cornwall College, and 24 grant-aided high schools owned by churches and trusts. Seven high schools were boys’ schools, 15 were girls’ schools and four were coeducational. Their total enrolment was less than three percent of the 12 to 18 years age cohort. These Government and grant-aided high schools recruited their students mainly from private preparatory schools, some of which were located close to and related to the high school. Students sat the Junior Cambridge and Senior Cambridge Examinations at the end of the fifth form and Cambridge Higher Schools at the end of the sixth form. Many high school students dropped out before the Fifth form. About 40 percent of fifth formers sat the Junior Cambridge and 60 percent of the Senior Cambridge examinations. In 1949 the total number of students sitting the Senior Cambridge examination was 1272.
All high schools were fee-paying. The high school system was administered by the Jamaica Schools Commission. Each high school had a school board that hired and fired its teachers. Most headmasters and headmistresses and most of the qualified high school teachers were from Britain.
Kingston Technical and six practical training centres offered forms of technical and vocational training to students ages 12 to 18. Their combined enrolment was small. In addition, there were four recently built Senior Modern Schools that catered to students 12 to 14 years.
The teachers’ colleges, Kingston Technical and the six practical training centres, the Senior Modern Schools and the elementary schools were administered by the Department of Education. The teachers’ colleges had boards of directors; however, the other institutions were administered by managers appointed by the owners of the institutions which were mainly various denominations.
In 1950, the University College of the West Indies (UCWI) was two years old. Its total enrolment was under 200 students mainly enrolled in medicine. The tertiary education sector consisted of four theological colleges, four teachers’ colleges and one school of agriculture. The total enrolment of these nine institutions was under 1000. The theological colleges and the School of Agriculture were all males, UCWI was mostly male and the teachers’ colleges about 60 percent female.
Taken in its totality the Jamaican education system in 1950 was small and limited in its provision for the educational needs of the country. Further, it was organized and administered with an apartheid structure. Children of the middle classes, who were mainly of lighter complexion, went to preparatory and then high schools administered by the Jamaica Schools Commission. Children of the mass of the population enrolled in elementary schools administered by the Department of Education. By 1950, about 400 elementary school children were offered scholarships, called Code Scholarships, to attend high schools.
It is this small, limited and socially segregated education system that the elected representatives of the people inherited from the colonial era when the Ministry of Education was established in 1953. This is the historical background against which the matter of the transformation of education in Jamaica needs to be understood.
TRANSFORMATION: THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The creation of the Ministry of Education, in itself, represented the transformation in two important respects. First, it commenced the process of integrating the segregated system of education that had evolved. The Department of Education and the Jamaica Schools Commission were dissolved and their powers and functions transferred to the Ministry. Second, it generalized the system of school-based management. All public institutions would be run by boards with powers to hire and fire their teachers, discipline their students, open and operate bank accounts, and see about their day-to-day operations. In other words, the Ministry would exercise its powers through consultation, consensus, and cooperation with local boards and not by central command and control.
It is instructive to take account of the stated objectives of first education policies set out by the Ministerial Government. The objectives of the National Plan 1957 to 1967, and which were indeed implemented, were:
- Universal primary education for all children between the ages of 7 and 11 years old.
- The expansion of high schools by enlarging existing schools and building new ones.
- The introduction of the Common Entrance Examination (CEE) to select students for high schools solely on the basis of merit.
- The award of 2000 free places to secondary schools annually based on the results of the CEE. Another 2000 students would be awarded grant places which covered about half of the tuition fees.
- The establishment of post-primary departments in all-age schools.
- The construction of large post-primary schools for children 11 to 15 years old.
- The expansion of technical high schools and the conversion of practical training centres to technical high schools.
- The recruitment of graduate teachers from abroad to meet the immediate demands of the expanded high school system.
- The award of 50 scholarships annually to the University of the West Indies (UWI) to persons willing to teach to obtain degrees and possibly post-graduate diplomas; and
- The establishment of an Institute of Arts and Applied Sciences.
These ten objectives can be condensed into three categories: expansion of access to the public primary and the general secondary school systems; the creation of a system of technical education; and establishing merit as the criterion for access to public secondary education. Merit replaced parents’ ability to pay. These three broad categories together with the creation of an integrated system of public education and the decentralized management of the school system established the main parameters of the transformation of the Jamaican education in the latter half of the twentieth century. Subsequent and succeeding reforms of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s essentially built out these five categories and added only one additional objective: the improvement of the quality of education at all levels.
The underlying assumption of these reforms was that the system of education inherited was basically good and appropriate but needed to be bigger, better and more integrated.
The achievements of Jamaican education in the second half of the 20th Century can be listed briefly as follows:
- Early Childhood Education. Starting from a point where over 40 percent of children four to six years old were enrolled in pre-school the country has achieved universal early childhood education. In the process, Jamaica pioneered a methodology of raising the standards of early childhood education, that has been adopted in many countries in the Caribbean and around the world.
- Primary Education. Jamaica achieved universal primary education by the late 1960s. In the process of expanding access to primary education, the quality of primary education has improved. In the mid-1960s it was estimated that only about 50 percent of children at the end of grade 6 were functionally literate. The current rate is about 85 percent.
- Special Needs Education. In 1962 five small privately run schools provided education for a very limited number of children with special needs. Special needs education is now part of the public provision of education. The Mico CARE Centre was established to diagnose learning deficits and difficulties and prescribe appropriate instruction as well as train teachers for special needs schools.
- Secondary education. From providing less than three percent of the 12 to 17 age cohort with five years of secondary schooling, Jamaica now provides approximately 80 percent of this age cohort with secondary education. Notwithstanding substantial expansion in the proportion of secondary education, the performance of students in external examinations has improved. In 1949 only 1272 students sat Senior Cambridge and only 25 percent passed English at a standard comparable to CSEC English A of the Caribbean Examinations Council. In 2011 over 84,047 Jamaican candidates sat English A in CSEC. The English A Pass rates in 2011, 2012 and 2013 were 68.5 percent, 51 percent and 63.6 percent respectively.
- Tertiary Education. From less than one percent of Jamaicans having access to tertiary education on Jamaican soil approximately 20 percent of Jamaicans now have access to tertiary education provided by UWI, the University of Technology, Northern Caribbean University, 20 odd medium-sized public colleges and a growing number of private institutions. Moreover, graduates from UWI and Jamaican universities and colleges have been competing successfully with graduates of the so-called developed world in their areas of specialization.
- Teacher Education. From a teacher education capacity that only partially provided for the teacher needs of primary education, Jamaica now has an indigenous capacity to satisfy the demand for professionally trained teachers for all levels of the education system: early childhood, primary, secondary and special needs.
- The 1960 Census found that 57.1 percent of the 15 years and overpopulation was literate. The adult literacy survey sponsored by JAMAL in 2000 found the adult literacy rate to be 80 percent.
- The Ministry of Education now formulates policy and regulates an integrated system of education from early childhood to the tertiary level.
When the education system that existed in 1950 is compared to that which existed in 2000 there can be no doubt whatsoever that it had been transformed. The transformation that took place was consistent with the objectives of the National Plan of 1957-1967. The Ministry of Education, through successive governments, had indeed effected the envisioned transformation. All levels of education had been expanded substantially. Quality had improved dramatically. The levels of education were articulated and the system, though not fully integrated, was not patently segregated as it was in the colonial era. As an aside, it is interesting to note there has been no event or celebration marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Ministry of Education.
The transformation to make the education system bigger, better and integrated was not complete by the turn of the 21st century but great progress had been made. Not to be overlooked is that some problems that emerged in the first half of the twentieth century had also been made bigger by the expansion of the system in the second half of the century. The gender gap in favour of girls which first emerged in the gender of elementary school teachers by the second decade of the twentieth century marked all levels of the education system by the end of the century. It is fair to say that the transformation in the second half of the twentieth century made the education system bigger, better and more integrated but not qualitatively different from what existed before.
Another important point to note is the fact that the population had much greater access to the education system, particularly at the secondary level; hence, many societal problems had a much greater expression in the school system than previously when there was greater exclusion. Many boards, principals and teachers and past students of schools saw this as deterioration of the schools.
Further, elements of old social segregation still exist. There is still a private preparatory school system separate from the public primary school system. The mass of children, who previously would have been excluded from secondary education are enrolled in government-owned secondary schools built in the second half of the twentieth century with loans from the World Bank and other donor agencies. They were initially treated as secondary schools different from the traditional high schools. Policy measures to integrate these schools into a single system of secondary education have been recent (over the last 20 or so years). In essence, the racial and colour antecedents that marked the education system have been effectively replaced by social class distinctions.
The footnote that must be added is that the highly successful policies to expand access to the education system continued even in the context of economic decline. Accordingly, the physical plant provisions were stretched and stressed and temporary measures such as the double shift system were implemented particularly in newly built facilities.
TRANSFORMATION: THE COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
The Jamaican education system compares favorably with the other Commonwealth countries with respect to the provision of universal early childhood and universal primary education. Jamaica leads the region with respect to its provision in special education in that it has developed an internationally recognised capacity to diagnose conditions affecting children’s learning and prescribe appropriate instruction as well as capacity to train special needs teachers who serve not only Jamaica but other Commonwealth Caribbean countries as well.
Jamaica lags behind the sub-region in the provision of secondary education. St Kitts and Nevis implemented universal secondary education in 1968. St Kitts and Nevis were followed by Barbados in 1976, the Bahamas and the six British dependencies in the 1980s, Trinidad and Tobago in 2000, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica in 2005, St Lucia in 2006 and Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada more recently. Jamaica is still to achieve this goal.
The Caribbean Examinations Council established in 1974, and offering its first examinations in 1979, has replaced Cambridge University in setting and evaluating exit standards. The
CSEC results for the first decade of the 21st Century show that students from Barbados, the British Virgin Islands and St Kitts and Nevis have consistently performed in the top five countries of the region each year. Jamaican students’ performance ranks in the middle of the range.
At the tertiary level, Barbados leads the Commonwealth Caribbean in the proportion of its population that has access to higher education. Trinidad and Tobago run a close second. It is only in the last fifteen years that Jamaica has implemented measures that compare to those in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
In 1900, Jamaica ranked 14th and Barbados ranked 15th in the world in the delivery of elementary education to their populations. From a regional perspective Jamaica and Barbados led the British colonies in the West Indies, and indeed all countries of the Caribbean in the provision of elementary education to its people. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Index ranks countries in terms of basic human needs indicators including infant mortality, literacy, basic education, and life expectancy. This is a broader range of indicators that the provision of elementary education but usually these indicators overlap; hence, it is not entirely inappropriate to make historical comparisons. The UNDP 2011 ranks 187 countries. Barbados is the highest ranked Caribbean country at 47 followed by Cuba at 51, the Bahamas at 53, Antigua and Barbuda at 60, Trinidad and Tobago at 62, Grenada at 67, St Kitts and Nevis at 72 and Jamaica at 79. In other words, just over a century later Barbados still holds basically the same position in the world as a Caribbean country that overlaps with the so-called first world countries in the provision of basic human needs indicators to its population. Further, Barbados leads the Caribbean, Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth Countries. Jamaica, on the other hand, no longer rivals or surpasses Barbados as it did in 1900. Indeed, Jamaica ranks 8th among the 16 politically independent Caribbean countries.
It is fair to say that while Jamaican education has been transformed over the fifty year period ending in 2003, several other Caribbean countries have outstripped Jamaica’s performance in the transformation of their education systems with respect to access and quality. This adverse comparison is not only restricted to countries in the Caribbean but also to countries in South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. In other words, while from the historical perspective celebration of the achievements of the second half of the twentieth century is in order, from the comparative perspective, there is no reason to become sanguine.
A question that needs to be asked and answered is why did the transformation of Jamaican education not keep pace with most other Caribbean countries? In 1993 UNESCO published a study in which it compared 87 developing countries with respect to public funding of primary education, the level of participation of the population in primary education, the level of performance of students at the end of primary education and gender equity. Jamaica ranked number 1. In other words, when the matter of value for money expended from the public purse was considered Jamaica ranked among the best. Put another way, any lack of pace in keeping up with transformation cannot be placed on the people: students, teachers, and parents. It is necessary to look elsewhere.
Jamaica was on a sustained path of growth in the resources allocated to education between 1953 and 1978 when the economy began to experience headwinds, marked by the crawling peg devaluation. Faced with economic decline and decrease in government revenue and expenditure the Government turned to the people to make up the deficit in allocation to education by the imposition of an Education Tax. What was not done was that the level of funding that was allocated to education in the overall budget was not indexed such that revenue from the Education Tax was clearly an addition. Further, revenue from the Education Tax was paid into the Consolidated Fund and became part of general revenue. The hard truth is that the Education Tax has benefited the general revenue of the country more than it has benefited education. The raw fact is that people’s commitment to education has been exploited, despite all the platitudes that have come from successive governments.
The charge that it is the State that has been delinquent in its support for the sustained transformation of education is made even more eloquently by the findings of Parkins (2008) which found that only two percent of all capital grants and loans to Jamaica went to education in the period 1975 to 1995. In plain language, while the Ministry of Education may be second only to the Ministry Finance in the annual allocation of the Budget, that allocation was mainly to keep the education system going with only minimal capital investments. A mitigating fact is that in 2003 Parliament pleaded guilty to the charge and unanimously voted to substantially increase funding to education.
However, it has to be admitted that lack of resources has not been the only hindrance to the sustained advancement of the education system. There is the tendency in Jamaica to solve problems, un-solve the solution, leading to the re-emergence of the problem and then solve it again. For example, when the Common Entrance was first introduced student/parental choice was unrestricted; hence, a child from any primary or preparatory school could be placed in any high school without any consideration of the location of either. Associated with the policy were transportation and boarding problems as well as the perception that some high schools, mostly located in Kingston, were preferred schools. In 1974 this policy was replaced. Students competed for high school places in the parishes in which they resided, Kingston and St Andrew being regarded as a single parish. This reduced boarding and transportation problems and led to the emergence of preferred high schools in every Parish and a broader number of high schools being preferred in Kingston and St Andrew. When the GSAT replaced the Common Entrance in 1999 the all-island policy was re-instated with the re-emergence of the transportation, boarding and perception problems. This cycle of solving, un-solving and re-solving problems result in marking time and not keeping pace with other countries.
THE TELEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
In February 2004 the Prime Minister established a Task Force with the explicit mandate to transform the Jamaican education system. The Task Force included the Leader of the Opposition thereby providing for bi-partisan involvement. Its membership was broad-based in terms of stakeholder interests. Its methodology employed round-table discussions and submissions from all segments of society thereby facilitating widespread participation. The Task Force collected and analyzed a wide array of data on all levels and on critical aspects of the education system. The Task Force worked expeditiously and submitted its report in September 2004 titled: “Jamaica: A Transformed Education System” which included a vision of the education system in 2015, ambitious performance targets set to be achieved by 2015 and a profile of the educated Jamaican.
The Report was accepted by the Prime Minister. A Secretariat with a Director was established for its implementation in conjunction with the Ministry of Education. Since then the slogan of education transformation has become the mantra of policy making and project implementation in Jamaica and has survived two changes of Government.
Applying the comparative perspective retroactively, the intention in 2004 to make radical, substantial and dramatic changes to the education system, despite the achievements of the previous fifty years was timely in that notwithstanding those accomplishments, Jamaican education was not keeping pace with the changes taking place in other Commonwealth Caribbean countries, or in the Western Hemisphere or globally. Taking account of the historical perspective the transformation envisaged could not simply be expanding access, ensuring equity, improving quality and advancing the integration of the education system since these would be merely continuing the focus of the previous fifty years. The question, therefore, becomes in what ways was the transformation envisioned in 2004 different from the transformation that had taken place in the latter half of the twentieth century?
Looked at critically the transformation envisaged in 2004 in large measure addressed the unfinished business of the transformation of the second half of the twentieth century. This is clearly evident in its following recommendations:
- To refurbish the physical plants of a large number of primary and secondary schools;
- To eliminate the double shift system that had been implemented as a short-term measure to accommodate the expansion of the school system but had become an on-going feature;
- To collapse the different types that comprised the school system such that there would be only two: primary schools and high schools;
- To upgrade the formal academic and professional qualifications of teachers such that a bachelor’s degree plus professional certification became the standard for teachers at all levels of the school system;
- To strengthen support and greater inclusion of early education as part of the public system of education, especially to improve its quality;
- to eliminate cost sharing in secondary schools and improve welfare to support students in need;
- To reduce underachievement of students at all levels of the school system, particularly in literacy and numeracy at the primary level;
- To substantially increase the budget allocation to education to 15% of the national budget annually.
The main new proposals of the Transformation Plan of 2004 can be listed briefly as follows:
- To create Regional Education Authorities and for the Ministry to be mainly a policy-making body;
- To embark on and engage in citizens’ education;
- To use information and communication technology to enhance learning;
- To institute performance-based management with rewards and sanctions at all levels of the education system.
It is not possible for a single individual, or the scope of this Lecture, to attempt an evaluation of the Transformation Plan nine years later either with respect to the ways in which it attempted to complete the unfinished business of the reforms of the latter half of the twentieth century or with respect to its new proposals. However, it is possible to make the following observations:
- The implementation of the recommendations of the Transformation Task Report took the form of a Project with a Director and allocated resources distinct from the Ministry of Education. There has been an evolution in which Transformation is now a programmatic part of the regular operations of the Ministry.
- The rhetoric and slogan of transformation persist despite the fact that the recommended and envisioned resource allocations have not been sustained.
- There is empirical evidence that indicates that noticeable progress has been made with respect to recommendations concerning early childhood education, performance indicators of student achievement at the primary and secondary levels and the academic and professional qualifications of teachers.
- The e-Learning Project has provided great scope for information and communication technologies to be used to enhance student learning.
- The matter of establishing Regional Education Authorities in Jamaica is conceptually flawed. Within Jamaican democracy, authority resides in the power to impose taxes and deploy the revenues received, and in the ballot box. Such powers reside in the Central Government or in the Parish or Municipal Councils. Since there is no intention to place education under Parish or Municipal Councils then authority for education continues to reside with the Central Government through the Ministry of Education. While the Ministry has the power to establish regional bodies and delegate to them certain authority this must mean assigning to those regional bodies authority that was delegated to and exercised by school boards, in other words, some degree of centralisation of the education system. This is not consistent with the justification given for the creation of the regional bodies, which is further decentralisation of the responsibilities of the Ministry. The practical result would be greater financial responsibilities for the Ministry and central government. Non-state actors and stakeholders that constitute school boards contribute significantly to the financing of schools. The Task Force itself attempted to calculate the size of this contribution and found it to be significant. Further, the Ministry exercises its authority through regulations, ratios, guidelines, scales and, minimum standards which apply equally to all boards. This ensures a national system of education. Semi-autonomous regional authorities run the risk of introducing inequities in all of these areas.
- The matter of performance-based management with rewards and sanctions dispensed on an annual basis is a direct implant from businesses. While this has become popular in many jurisdictions the extent to which the education system mirrors businesses, and student performance on achievement tests is equivalent to the bottom line of profit, and loss is highly questionable.
TIME TO THINK AGAIN
It is time to think again about education transformation for at least three reasons. First, the official transformation effort set 2015 for its goals and objectives to be achieved. The time is approaching for a comprehensive assessment to be made and some lessons to be learned. Second, at the moment, too many of the transformation initiative appears to have run out of steam. If it is to be reenergized then some new thinking is needed. Third, and most important, the idea of education transformation itself and the purpose that such transformation should serve needs to be the subject of the most careful scrutiny. It is for this third reason that I wish to provoke some consideration.
Education transformation is a means by which some group or people, or nation, or region constructs its future around shared identities, bonds of solidarity and a sense of a common destiny in order to survive and possibly prosper as a distinct people, or nation, or region in the future. It is not a means of restoring the past but of proceeding to the future. It is usually embarked upon when the group, or people, or nation, or region come to the realization that their current situation is untenable. Education transformation is the best instrument to be employed when the substantial, dramatic and radical changes that are needed must take place across generations and not just the five-year policy cycle of government. The question then becomes, is Jamaica facing an untenable situation?
We have seen reports which show that over the last 40 years our economic production has consistently declined across a wide array of products. The country has accumulated a huge public debt. We have been borrowing to repay debt. Accordingly, austerity measures required by lenders have resulted in increasing cycles of austerity each cycle appearing more drastic. The murder rate is among the highest in the world. More and more young people, especially young men, including many who have been very successful at school, find themselves with very limited prospects. At the same time, the country has a stable democracy, some of our entertainers and musicians, many of our athletes, some companies and several past students of our education system have been competing successfully across the world. It takes little imagination to recognize that economic decline, increasing crippling debt, high rates of violent crime and hopeless youth are likely to produce a cauldron which over time could undermine the democracy, cripple and compromise the creative energies and push successful businesses offshore. These alone should be sufficient to make the case that the country is faced with an untenable situation.
If we are to make the substantial and radical changes that are needed to combat the negative circumstances described, then the place to begin is with our thinking. Clearly, there are ideas, ways of thinking and mindsets that are at the foundation of these negative circumstances. In this Lecture it is my intention merely to identify and list some of these ideas, ways of thinking, mindsets, and mentalities that in my view we should revisit. In so doing I make no claim that this list is exhaustive. Hopefully, it will serve as a starting point for the dialogue. The point is thinking is the fountainhead of becoming, being and doing.
List of Ideas, Ways of Thinking, Mindsets and Mentalities
Here is my list of ideas, ways of thinking, mindset and mentalities that need to be re-visited:
The idea of development which posits that former colonial powers are developed, that their former colonies are under-developed and can become developed by imitating their systems and processes, taking guidance and help from their people and using grants and loans from their institutions.
The fundamental flaw in this development paradigm is the assumption that there is a terminus to human society and that these powerful countries had reached that terminus by the genius of their people and the systems that they had created and that others could reach this terminus by imitation and without the powers that had been used to achieve their position of dominance. After 50 years the flaw in this idea should be self-evident as Western powers are being challenged, and some are even becoming ‘undeveloped’. The lesson we should have learned is that as a small marginal country in the geopolitics of this world imitating the powerful, relying on their people, resources and institution simply perpetuates dependencies and grows debt. This is a lesson that we need to apply to the working out of how to deal with the powers that now challenge the hegemony of the West. We need to think of what will be our state if over the next fifty years we seek simply to imitate these rising powers, take guidance and help from their people and use grants and loans from their institutions. What development thinking did was to obscure the power relationships in the world, foster dependency on aid and loans that benefited the donors more than the recipients, stifle local enterprise, encourage debt and then blame the victims for their lack of progress.
The mindset that intelligence is best manifested and measured in relation to mastery of language, in our case English, and Mathematics.
Modern psychology, particularly in the work of Howard Gardner and his colleagues, has shown that people are intelligent in at least seven or eight different ways and that genius is manifest in all of these areas. Indeed, our own experience as a country gives testimony to this reality. For example, the wealth of talent and genius in music openly manifested across Jamaica is inversely related to the resources that have been invested in music education in schools. Jamaica is enjoying much attention in the world because of the success of our athletes, which has been largely the result of extra-curricular efforts of the school system. Many of our most illustrious stars in music, entertainment, and sports were not among those with the highest scores in the Common Entrance or GSAT. The point here is that in a knowledge economy and as a small marginal country much of our future resides in the identification and nurturing of the multiple intelligences and talents of our people. We need to re-think the curriculum and investments in this light.
The idea of elite.
Stripped to its bare essentials, the elite in any field speaks to being the best in that field. It is a meritocratic designation. Members of that elite are judged within their generation to be among the best in their field without any assumption that such prowess or mastery will be automatically transferred to their children. In this context, the elite has a positive connotation. On the other hand, a social elite is an ascription conferring advantages which are passed on across generations without any pretensions of merit on the part of the younger generation. Clearly, there is interaction and interrelation between both meanings of the elite. In circumstances of a country whose future depends upon investment in the talents of its people, inclusive of exceptional talents that some will have, it is imperative that this process is twinned with clear thinking about elites that informs the accompanying socialisation patterns involved. This is not an academic matter. Note should be taken of the fact that several of our highly successful musicians and entertainers, for their own protection, have moved out of their communities or even out of the country and some have been killed by their peers. Further, there is a need to re-think education with respect to perceptions and assumptions of a social elite.
The mindset of writing off people for a host of highly questionable reasons and reasoning.
We often write off people on the basis of where they live, the political parties they are alleged to belong to, their looks and appearance, their scores on the GSAT or passes in CSEC and a host of other reasons. What this does is provide justification to narrow the pool of persons that need to be considered or the ranges of services or remedial actions that need to be taken. For example, we often hear from Education Officials that somewhere between 30 to 70 percent of students entering Grade One are ready for the Grade One curriculum. Further, the inference is made that the deficit noted at entry into Grade One is likely to remain until the end of primary schooling and beyond. This is meant to reflect adversely either on the children or education in Basic Schools. This is effectively writing off those labeled by the Grade One Individual Learning Profile. However, does this not indict the design of the Grade One curriculum? Does this not excuse primary schools from taking appropriate action in relation to the Grade One students they receive? In six years, can children not recover substantially from early disadvantage? Should we not try? That fact is that children do not develop at the same rate and at this early age these differential rates of development are likely to be most evident. The design of the primary curriculum should take account of this fact.
Our way of thinking about Information and Communication Technologies.
Here I wish to pick up on the point made by Dr. Didicus Jules, Registrar of CXC, that we in the Caribbean must not limit ourselves to being consumers of information and communications technologies but also producers of it. I wholeheartedly endorse Dr. Jules’ recommendation. I wish to add the general observation that ICT hardware being produced can do much more than the applications that have been developed, which in turn can do much more than what users and consumers of ICT do with those applications. In inventing, producing or consuming ICT we must be guided by real problems we wish to solve, communities we wish to connect, opportunities we wish to take, and the experiences we wish people to enjoy. The potential is enormous. Further, new technologies usually offer the marginalised new opportunities and access to areas to which they were previously excluded. It may be interesting for us in Jamaica to take a look at St Vincent and the Grenadines and other countries that have implemented the One-Net-Book per Child programme. In St Vincent and the Grenadines in the first phase all students from Grade 2 to Grade 7 have been given Net-books. Schools all have wireless networks and broadband Internet connections. Further, there are hotspots around the country where students can get their connections to the Internet outside of school. I have not seen boys more excited about and engaged with any gadget provided by schools. It is my sense that not all their engagement is schoolwork but their explorations and play could provide the stimulus for them to become in time not only consumers but producers and innovators.
The mindset to generalise exceptions, think the worse and exaggerate problems.
We have the tendency to generalise exceptions, immediately think the worse, magnify problems and then talk ourselves into paralysis with respect to taking any action. The news media and talk show hosts feed this tendency on a daily basis. My personal reaction is to wait to hear to the full story, or if this is a matter that I must address, to immediately go in search of the facts or reliable sources of data related to the matter. The result of this mindset is that there always seems to be a big crisis in the country, even some fear that Jamaica is going to disappear. This mindset undermines calm, calculated and constructive assessments of the issues and sound responses to those challenges.
Our idea of the Caribbean.
Like most other countries of the region, it is now common to say, in the same sentence, Jamaica and the Caribbean or Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean or Barbados and the Caribbean. Nationality and region are co-joined, but the notion of the Caribbean is invoked only when some benefit is contemplated. However, whenever there is some adverse tension between nationality and region, there is a retreat to nationalism. In other words, the Caribbean is a notion of convenience related to benefit. The point that must not be missed is that a common destiny is being imposed upon the twelve independent English speaking countries, Haiti and Surinam by external geopolitical forces. To believe that these fourteen countries can each independently negotiate and prosper in the regionalising and globalising world of the future is more than wishful thinking. I must assert that the Caribbean ought not to be conceived only as a trading block forged by economic necessity. Freed from colonial domination, awakened to the deception of the promise of the development idea and aware of their common history these countries need to embark on the mission of continuing to build a Caribbean civilisation in the common geographical space they occupy. While CARICOM is a mechanism created by governments, a common identity, bonds of solidarity, a sense of a shared destiny and a civilisation that sets the parameters of living and relationships to rest with the people. This is the challenge for their education systems for the next 100 years at least. In this regard information and communication technologies become indispensable tools given the waters that separate us.
There is final matter I wish to mention. It is the choice between two mentalities. There two mentalities have persisted in Jamaica over several centuries. One is the spoils mentality whose pioneer was the pirates and the buccaneers. The spoils mentality is characterized by exploitation, extortion, greed, selfishness and licentious living. Where ever the spoils mentality dominates whether in government, the civil service, companies, schools, churches, unions or clubs those in control run things for the benefit of themselves, their families, their friends and their clients to the detriment of the majority. The spoils mentality leaves in its wake economic stagnation, social upheaval, political apathy, crime and poverty. The second mentality is that of the common good. Its pioneers in Jamaica were John Wolmer, Martin Rusea, Thomas Manning and the non-conformist Christian missionaries. The common good mentality is marked by care for others, self-sacrifice, commitment to the community and resistance to the spoils mentality. It is the common good mentality that resisted slavery, established schools, built communities, resisted colonialism and created wealth that remained in the country. These two mentalities have contended in every generation and era of Jamaica and have alternated in the ascendency as people have made their choices between them.
SHORTWOOD AND THE WAY FORWARD
Institutions are the mechanisms that connect individuals across generations. Hence, institutions are the mechanisms capable of effecting transformation. Shortwood belongs to that select band of institutions in Jamaica that have existed for more than 100 years. This is because it has assisted generations of women, and the country, to successfully navigate the challenges of their times. But education transformation in Jamaica as of 2004 (Shortwood) is even more closely connected to Shortwood. Your then Principal Mrs. Elaine Foster-Allen was a member of the Transformation Task Force and now that transformation has been integrated into the regular programmes of the Ministry of Education, she is now the Permanent Secretary. This must be to the credit not only of Mrs. Foster-Allen but also Shortwood.
Further, as I pointed out in the 1992 Norma Darlington Founders’ Day Lecture, Shortwood as an institution played a pioneering role in the liberation of women in general in Jamaica, particularly with respect to black women. Now in the era in which our women are in the fore, a good measure of the leadership and responsibility to make our way out of the untenable situation that exists and in thinking again about the ideas, ways of thinking, mindsets and mentalities will require engagement from the Shortwood Community: students, staff, past students and friends.
Thinking is the fountain head but it is the deeds that follow that speak most eloquently of the thoughts. We will therefore look with great interest at how Shortwood as the College
- Treats with how we as a country deal with the powers of the West and the East, without becoming a mendicant nation.
- Continues to prepare its students to be teachers who see the possibilities and potential of students who others write off
- Continues to play its part in having its students recognise the full range of intelligences and talents that constitute human potential, including in themselves, and become teachers who cultivate and foster the multiple intelligences and talents of their students
- Helps to clarify and concretize our understanding of elite as attainment by merit and as restricted to each generation, thus ensuring social justice, that those with exceptional talents understand the stewardship and obligations attendant upon these gifts and their development, and others understand that all are honoured by the fact that such exceptional talents reside among us.
- Seeks means that provide every tutor and student with laptop computers and promotes innovative use of this tool in bringing generations of Shortwoodites together in constructive engagement in collaborating with colleagues in other colleges in Jamaica and across the Caribbean in pioneering creating and inspiring ways of learning and in participating in the knowledge community worldwide
- Promotes reliance on facts and data as means of gaining accurate assessments of situations tackles problems in calm, steady and constructive ways and exercises the patience needed to obtain sound results.
- Takes up the challenge of contributing to the construction of the Caribbean civilisation
- Encourages its members to embrace the common good mentality and resist and oppose the spoils mentality.
Success in this challenge is most likely to allow Shortwood to thrive for at least the next hundred years.