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Let's use local best practice to transform education faster

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, September 15, 2017

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Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid may have scored an own goal by criminalising (almost?) his best schools and principals, but this energised debate on education — great! Education for all is now on a bipartisan path, but tweaking or innovation — which enures to better, faster, more enduring change — is good. The deficit is quality, and we should look local for solutions. But some questions are worth asking.

Who is an educated Jamaican

Have we defined, characterised or described him and her and noted “best in class” persons — the governor general, Andrew Holness, Peter Philips? Is the profile of such a person on the notice board at Cudjoe Basic School, Prickly Pole Primary, St Andrew High, libraries so we measure up?

Education is not qualification; as many with Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate passes are not able, and some with degrees cannot write English after 15 years at it, yet my little neighbour from France is word perfect in this new language and can speak patois after two years here.

Are our kids dumb?

Education is a moving target along an age-related trajectory with evidences which validate progress. So an educated 18-year-old and an educated 40-year-old can vote or get married, but the former is not as accomplished. So mastery of a basket of attributes is key and peeps say our basket includes competence in English; thinking, reasoning; mastery of self-body, mind, emotion; know-how on subjects; growth of the cognitive, affective and artistic with good values, caring and a firm grasp of reality. This should be in place at secondary level as tertiary is depth of content and new vocabulary, which impact education very little.

The accretion over time can be measured, and at some stage we are there. The scaffolding is erected by parents, in early stimulation, childhood play, relating; then in primary and secondary school vague features of an educated person emerge, and in teenage we see it better. But we know a hard, stainy, green mango which puts teeth on edge will become a blushing, mature, succulent fruit very soon.

Second education changes behaviour, but behaviour change is not education, yet there is now pressure for schools to change antisocial youth. Education is a result of knowledge, values, attributes, skills, and mores which accrue in the cut and thrust of life and enure to a rounded, ergo, educated individual. It is long term.

Behaviour and conduct relate to externals and affect others. Via education it is torturous, time consuming, and the results not guaranteed. Conduct may come from deep down or a very shallow place; for example, a scammer puts on a sufferer's face and gives a tear-jerking spiel to beg, so a quick solution is to use law or rote to mandate courtesies, eg, “Please, thank you, Good Morning,” and not waste a year to persuade the miscreant to say thanks from a changed heart. His heart is his business, his conduct ours.

Why don't we use Jamaican best practice?

Is it a condition of aid why we use foreign education models and never codify or embrace local best practices? Yet we have more decorated schools than some who give us loans and consultants. Some always cite Finland as a model, but what was their education like before they prospered? For generations our endowed schools produced world-class. These elite schools, started for poor white kids, accepted poor coloured, then poor black kids, and morphed into schools for well-off people of all colours, and in recent times are bastions of the brightest. They changed with the times but their standards are firm.

Peeps say most prime ministers, minsters and senators went to five schools. Which five? We know how to operate elite schools and how to move kids from disadvantage to elite standing, so let's have more of them. This is best practice to be documented, exploited, mainstreamed across Jamaica, and exported. Years ago I spoke of a Jamaica College in Brixton, Campion in Toronto, and St Andrew High School in the tri-state area earning foreign currency, as the Diaspora likes old discipline and alma maters.

Our problem is quality, so why can't we have “St Hilda's, Pine Grove” or “Immaculate, Negril” or “Kingston College, Montego Bay?” Cabinet can now tell the loan agencies we have a local model — proof of concept over generations. That way we will refurbish some schools to Jamaica College standard and use this known modality so every parish will gradually have a critical mass of name-brand franchise schools.

When Ronald Thwaites was minister of education a franchise concept was born, some top schools were approached, but this was overtaken by elections. With Cabinet leadership; proper funding; a suite of franchise, governance and operating manuals; and personal support from alumni, staff in the west — the culture and school spirit is key — would Wolmer's extend its franchise to Montego Bay? Why can't the proposed new school be a branded franchise of a legacy school — Campion West, maybe — with better facilities but equal scholastic quality. There could be school management software; library and lab work could be optimised virtually with the best teacher on screen — seen at both campuses.

The cheapest, quickest and sure way for Cabinet to get quality is not foreign innovation, but invest, fund the franchisor school to build its model in a new location, and let them work their magic. If fast food can iron out quality, staffing and spirit in a franchise, why can't the intellectuals? None of this violates the education transformation project, and the private sector would love the franchisees.

We have produced individual talent from legacy schools for decades, but the Ministry of Education has not been able to parlay individual success to education system success. Now is the time. Give the franchisor schools free rein to do what they have done for decades and all Jamaica wins. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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