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Curious happenings at the Ministry of Education

RAULSTON NEMBHARD

Saturday, October 20, 2012    

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THE National College for Educational Leadership (NCEL) was set up by the previous government in 2011 to develop a cadre of leadership in the Jamaican educational enterprise. It was aimed specifically at principals as certain deficiencies had been identified in the quality of leadership coming from that spectrum of the teaching profession.

Up to recently, the present administration seemed not to have had any problems with the programme, but now we are being told that the person who was contracted as the director of the NCEL has been experiencing difficulties, even though as early as August 2012 he was given the green light to proceed with the training of the first batch of principals.

Dr Doeford Shirley, director of NCEL, has not been shy to express his displeasure at what has been taking place. He has spoken publicly and openly of his disaffection regarding the ministry's reluctance to cooperate with him in getting the programme under way. He claims that he has not been given the requisite staffing and space to establish the college. According to him he has developed the modules for the training to begin, and despite the staffing problems he is ready to begin the training seminars consistent with the terms of his contract.

But he has run into a brick wall with the ministry as the seminars, or at least his participation in them, have been cancelled. In his words, he has received only "insurmountable problems" from the ministry. Words from the acting permanent secretary would suggest that what Dr Shirley has developed is no longer required and that the ministry is going to move in a different direction. There is the belief that he has been sidelined. Mr Thwaites, the minister, has indicated that the training programme will begin in November.

What is happening here? What seems obvious is that there has been a tremendous breakdown of communication between ministry officials and Dr Shirley. What seems also obvious is that there has developed some conflict between Dr Shirley and Dr Johnston, the senior adviser to the minister. Dr Johnston had indicated that he would be carrying out a review of certain functions of the ministry in order to streamline its operations to achieve a greater efficiency in how things are done at the ministry. Is Dr Shirley's work a casualty of this process of rationalisation? What is clear is that there are vexing problems that affect the NCEL and Dr Shirley's participation in them. While the minister may not be prepared to enter into any argument with Dr Shirley, he owes the people of Jamaica more detailed commentary and appraisal on the matter. The public is left with too many conjectures about what is becoming a public squabble and this cannot be good for good governance at the ministry.

What, for example, is the status of Dr Shirley's contract? According to him, he has started to execute it in the development of the training modules and in his preparation to begin the first training seminars. Will the ministry rescind his contract? If the answer to this is in the affirmative, will it then be "paid out" by the ministry? If his services are still needed, will a modification of the contract be negotiated? What would be the terms of the new contract if this is the case? The people have a right to expect transparency and openness in the conduct of their business. Mr Thwaites owes the people of Jamaica an explanation of what is going on. The ministry might have been displeased that Dr Shirley brought the matter into the open and would want to circle the wagons to shut down further information getting out.

We reserve judgement until we can hear more from the ministry. If we do not, then we can only be left to speculate as to motives regarding these curious happenings in the ministry. We lurch from crisis to crisis in this country because of a lack of transparency and openness in how we govern ourselves. Leaders allow things to filter out only when it is palatable to them, but will go to every length to shut down unpleasant information from the public. I am not saying that this is what is happening at the education ministry, but it is part of an attitude in political leadership that has hobbled this country since Independence. If officials at the ministry of education can no longer work with Dr Shirley they should declare this, pay him out and get on with the business at hand. Over to you, Mr Thwaites.

stead6655@aol.com

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