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Prison Schools? Alas JCF, no good deed goes unpunished

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, January 31, 2014    

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Congrats to the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) on its March 2012 report Education and crime as it keeps education front and centre and brings new players into the arena. The JCF is a key partner of the Ministry of Education (MOE) by its 100 plus school resource officers (SRO). What would school be without them? The JCF research to improve their SRO work also corroborates research by the MOE, so "big up," Minister Bunting and his team. Minister Thwaites has spoken column inches on every facet of education-student underperformance, teachers, sluggish MOE, delinquent parents, too many books, too little food in PATH bellies, poor use of resources, and after some name-calling and blood we get it -- teachers, parents get it, our nation gets it. Change is not negotiable. Partners do shout at each other "go fast, not so fast, check this or that," but none picks up his ball and colts the game. We are now at one in education.

When Minister Thwaites brought Minister Bunting to the education brass some were askance. But his measured, data-based talk was compelling. The headline 'Prison Schools' is priceless, but not as readers think. Some teachers tell me they are like warders for students and little teaching gets done. Teachers did not sign-on for this. Where are the parents? Then guess what? Google alerts got massive hits for Ronnie and one principal said the headline was a wake-up call for her students: "They will study hard to avoid prison." The day Babylon said "Fire the advisor," and people asked "why?" the education conversation shifted and the JCF report now flushes out silent partners who might add value. Out of evil comes good.

The media salvo by the academy was unhelpful. To major in the minor is not usual for UWI. It added no value to the crime or education debate. Does their script to avoid "reputational harm...bearing in mind that the report is in the public domain" cover them? The other says: "The big question is whether the study has really told us anything new..." -- well whoopedooo dah! The nation struggles to reinvent itself as a sound economy -- not done since slavery; our values are under siege, the IMF occupies our drawing room; fear is palpable; the crisis of our girls patent but sociologists, imaginationists dissect research protocols of a minor JCF study. The academic beauty contest and one-upmanship is an abomination. Can we avoid patronising drivel-tenured number crunchers spout to unblessed others?

The JCF research is passé, as is five murders a day, but crucial. We knew the descriptors but it corroborates other research. When I lived abroad, I used to hear of trouble, and without asking I knew it was in one of 10 constituencies, six are in the Corporate Area. Guess where all but one of the schools named by the JCF are located?

School is not cause, it is result. Until or unless parents are held to account we will need the SRO corps and more. The JCF must do research despite being bruited by the academy. The MOE must trawl all research for gold. Few JCF reports will segue neatly into education, if one does, great! Is it time for university teaching to be a profession in law as school teaching? My institute would have my guts for "bringing the profession into disrepute" by gratuitously insulting professional peers. Freedom without accountability cannot stand. The "feminent" professors have a problem with the JCF's work, but what of crime and education? Can the taxpayer expect more value than a cavil on research protocols for the $6 billion -- yes $6 billion they get out of the MOE budget? You offered, now tell Ronnie; what will you research and deliver to help education? Watch this space!

The schools named were sent the JCF report by the MOE in 2013, and in 2014 principals, parents and students were justifiably angry at the "Prison school" tag not the report. The principals in caucus affirmed the minister's proposal, but opined the JCF report should have been redacted and graciously accepted his "mea culpa". They thought the report had value; some wanted names of prisoners -- refused by JCF on grounds of privacy -- to check school records for any pattern that might help them save today's students as those prisoners had left school over 20 years ago.

Years ago Thwaites started a frank conversation with the nation about education. A few took offence, but most were cool. The paradigm shifts as major players are now on board. Education is life, and the battle for the nation's soul is not waged in dancehall, sports field or Parliament; the crucible is the school! The monster seeks the innocent as if perverted young it's for life -- sounds familiar? What's happening to girls is no accident. Women are the nation's bedrock, get them early and you have men by the balls.

We are not a nation to prize data, we love to spout gut feelings and what "smaddy tell me outa road". When the MOE started deep data mining the teachers' trade union was upset. The public now know a lot: 16 per cent of those teaching maths are not so qualified! We may save $2 billion if teachers avoid taking vacations in the 190 days of school and use distance study. Some 2,000 teachers are paid but have little or no work. Some 200 small schools are not sustainable; close them? Now that the truth is out, working together is much easier.

It is the best of times and the worst of times to be a teacher, but help is on the way -- The MOE and union are workign on it. The MOE has the largest, most experienced and lettered cadre of educators and has no equal in the region. Its work is guided by NEI inspections and other research in its massive network and has been gestating a special multi-disciplined intervention for traumatised schools, some experiencing antisocial, recidivist and criminal behaviour. It may not be a silver bullet, but is a novel tack, and we can't do as we always do and expect different results. The "eureka" moment may be ahead. Let's work to make it so.

We are on a trajectory set by PJ Patterson's transformation; a holy grail passed from Burchell to Maxine, to Andrew, to Ronald. All the named are still active players -- thank God. We need research as education is a moving target. If you think you have it pat, think again. A transport study may corroborate data about zoning; a JCF study can sync with NEI findings. If your research intersects with schools tell the MOE. Can the grumpy academy researchers design constructs for antisocial conduct, parenting strategies, a PPP that does not add to debt, educating boys? Can teachers do continuing professional development on the job as private workers do? Other issues include finding the fat in a $5-billion-a-month payroll, billions spent on extra lesson industry, sustaining tertiary education when 75 per cent of the cash exits by migration, ending the shift system, school nutrition, reaching infants with positive sensory messages, infusing values? Talk to Ronnie now. Show him your ideas; bold strategies, non-State resources; fearless leaders, incentives. Get in the education game. Your child, the nation is at risk, so do it now. Stay conscious, my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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