Columns

Teachers dither, others rush to be professionals

Franklin JOHNSTON

Friday, August 01, 2014    

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A crucial issue in the education reform report of 2004 is of teaching "grounded in centuries of socio-cultural practices". Antiquity can be blessing or curse. Teaching is the engine room which delivers core content and "manners" in school, a big cost centre.

The report cites "poor performance" of the school system at key stages — readiness for primary school, Grade 4 literacy, GSAT, and CSEC English and math. The UNESCO Report of 1983 told us that 85 per cent of teachers were trained, student attendance was 90 per cent, but half of primary school leavers were illiterate. The interaction between a good teacher and pupils results in literate kids who pass exams and have good values. We get the opposite despite much effort.

From Aristotle we know that teacher and student make the magic - not books, classroom or money. From the new World Bank study referenced in The Gleaner editorial of July 30 our situation is still grief: "At grade four around 40 per cent of the children have

not achieved age-level competence in literacy and numeracy, and at grade six a similar number are not ready for secondary education. At the end of five years of high school, despite pre-exam screening out of very weak students, nearly 60 per cent of students fail at math in the CXC exams, and nearly 40 per cent at English." The Ministry told you as much based on data mining; it is long-standing, takes time to fix, and thank God the fixing is underway so be supportive — we will prevail.

Fixing teaching is the core of fixing education. If we have 20 per cent kids with special needs then 80 per cent should do well — it's not happening. Good principals and teachers affirm the measures outlined in Minister Thwaites' sectoral speech as fair and necessary; revising the Education Act, Code and making the glorious job of teaching into a profession is Job #1 to them.

I chose to be a teacher over the rewards of accounting as I loved to teach, as many conscious teachers do — idealism lives. One opined: "We need a set qualifications for teaching as in accounting or law or you continue the perverse incentives as paying for any degree and breed classism as some have MA, some BA." I looked up the 2004 report: "Under the current system of

granting salary increases, salaries are not based on results — that is, the achievement of students — but rather the acquisition of degrees and years of service. For example, teachers benefit from automatic annual increments." Another opined: "The only reason I may leave teaching is the car trunk vendors, who keep the class reading while they do business. There are few full-time teachers." The group giggled, but it meant that to keep the best teachers Government must fast-track the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Bill. It would betray good teachers if they leave or retire before reaping the reward of professional standing in law.

Teachers no longer see union office as the acme of their careers, and to elevate them as per engineers, doctors is the right thing to do. Parliament must respond with alacrity. The title "teacher" — the one who educates school-age kids — is to be protected in law from pirates and carpetbaggers. The Gleaner of July 27 had a page with the banner 'Devious doctors' as patients objected that a doctor found guilty by the Medical Council of Jamaica (the professional body) was given a light sentence. Said she: "The doctor was dishonest, negligent. He fabricated a report and misdiagnosed me." The Medical Association of Jamaica (the union) was troubled. Erica Virtue reported: "The MAJ does not have the authority to punish doctors, but its president, Dr Shane Alexis, said from time to time it has found it necessary to call on respected professionals from among its ranks to hold talks with doctors who are subject of adverse reports." Alexis continued, "adverse complaints do not help us. It undermines not just the profession, but in the eyes of our patients because medicine is based on trust." Wow! Compare a doctor's visit to years of a child relating closely to a named teacher. Who is more accountable for your child?

Before architecture was a profession every Tom, Dick and Harry could draw a house and build it. Teachers send me e-mails and now want their job to be a profession as too many people are "tryin a ting" — no respect! One sent a clipping from The Gleaner of July 13 with a note: "This could have been us two years ago, but for you know who." Titled 'Crackdown on quacks', it ran: "Government's decision to begin licensing psychologists could cure the problem of quacks collecting big bucks from persons seeking help for mental issues." Arthur Hall reported: "For years, persons lacking the necessary qualifications have been offering psychological services locally, to the chagrin of the Jamaica Psychological Society...which has been calling for the regulation of the profession." He continues: "The executive... has been working tirelessly to facilitate the licensing of Jamaican psychologists." A vice-president said: "Licensure requires psychologists to remain current through continuing education. This and other regulations will protect the integrity of the profession." Will we have legal psychologists in school while teachers who "own" it are just one of three union groups on the premises? The JTC Bill should not be derailed. Government must get it on track and not fail teachers.

The job of schoolteacher is easily protected as the law specifies who attends school — the ages to be taught, how many years, at which level; early childhood, primary, secondary. A specialist in kid's health is not in geriatric health, though they both deal with humans and have views on the other. One says: "Sorry, that's not my field, but I can refer you..." A schoolteacher is not a lecturer; but both deal with humans, and a professional may say, "Sorry, my specialty is pedagogy, not andragogy, I can refer you." A profession does not regard interest groups, as the individual commits to codes of conduct and ethics on personal honour. When all are aggregated, that is the profession.

Making teaching a profession is the game-changer in education. Because of the diversity and reach of schools, teachers will then self-motivate, self-manage and be accountable. The teacher is the expert on individual student development, the doctor on individual student health, but teacher has the student for a term, year or more and is accountable for student achievement. Some teachers have 45 students in a class and produce good results, and many schools with seven students to a teacher produce abysmal results. Where is the equity for innocent kids? Who stands up for them? The professional teacher lives by her ethics, is motivated, flexible, will have 90 per cent educated students who pass their exams, has good values and go on to further study or work. Many teachers always did this based on personal integrity; with professional standing all teachers should rise to the occasion. 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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