Letters to the Editor

What does the education ministry propose to do differently?

Friday, June 29, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

With the release of the Grade Six Achievement Test results recently, the education ministry is now under the microscope. Since then, the conceptualiser of the test, Dr Fitz Russell, has said the GSAT was never designed as a placement tool, but rather a feedback mechanism which could be used by educators to evaluate students' aptitude. I wish to direct the public's attention from the issue of the misuse of GSAT to the whole issue of the measures that the ministry will implement to remedy the various issues that the test has created.

At some point in the debates about education, the issue of performance-based pay for teachers arose. Under such a system, students' performance would be linked to the salary teachers would receive. As one might imagine, under such a system a teacher might be more motivated to work harder with her students to ensure a more satisfactory result, thus making everyone happy - the ministry, the parents, even the students.

But I recently came upon a theory which had some scientific results to substantiate its claims. Many may believe that financial incentives are the most powerful motivator for performance. Meaning, in this context, if we propose to pay our teachers more, in essence they will perform better. Yet the findings of many studies by behavioural psychologists actually suggest that the conventional assumptions about incentive compensation programmes are wrong. All the studies suggest that incentive-based programmes in which external rewards are used often result in a lowered performance. Moreover, the researchers found that in situations in which creativity and innovation were required, incentives actually impaired or limited performance.

As Jamaica approaches its 50th anniversary of Independence, it is time to reflect on our successes and our mistakes. It is clear that the Jamaican education system needs bright ideas to get the ball rolling again. But I say this: Jamaican teachers should not have to be bribed to do what they love.

They must find that passion that flows naturally from within; they must each rediscover the reason why they came into the profession in the first place; they must each come to the conclusion that a price can never be placed on the education of the Jamaican children. Did Usain Bolt's teacher have any idea who was sitting in their class when Usain was four years old? I would think not. If so, I am quite sure that that teacher did not exude any less passion than if Usain did not become an international star. Teachers teach because they love it!

We have got thus far - 50 years; there is no telling what we can accomplish in the next 50 years if we educate our children. Ensuring that each learns and no one is left behind. Ensuring that the "one size fits all" mentality doesn't take root in the education system. Einstein said, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." As we move forward, what is it that we plan to do differently? Einstein said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. What is it then that the education ministry proposes to do differently?

Evita Collins

Mandeville, Manchester

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