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End of school year expectations

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In another two weeks the 2011/12 school year comes to an end. All but a few of the major calendar events or activities would have already taken place. The results of the June 2012 CXC are yet to be published and the Jamaica Teachers' Association Annual Conference is still to come. There will also be the "back-to-school" activities. What are some positive expectations on these to end the school year? What are the crucial issues?

The Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination results will be the first of the results to be published. For some curious reasons, over the years these usually do not attract much attention except when they are late and students get anxious about submitting transcripts to the universities on time for place offer decisions. Although the quality of grades in mathematics and some science subjects is often fairly good, this fact goes unnoticed and without comment. Instead of the usual lukewarm reaction to the results, could we celebrate the successes this year? Because of financial woes some students, though qualified, won't be able to go to university. Could more employers assist them and others already in the job-seeking queue?

The C-SEC examination results attract great attention. When they are published the "experts" come out of the woodwork to deliver judgements. If there are even slight improvements, these are seldom acknowledged. On the contrary, if the results are similar to the previous year's or are more disappointing, then the usual bashing of schools takes place. Suggestions are even made for less successful schools to visit their more successful counterparts to gather ideas on getting the same results. Though some of the suggestions may be well-intentioned they do more harm than good because they ignite resentment in the way they are formulated. In this year of our 50th Independence anniversary, can our mostly negative reaction to examination results be changed with an appreciation of the fact that often there are peculiar factors affecting the results at each school?

The preferred approach is for friendly critics to join with the schools in evaluating the contributory factors to unsatisfactory results and develop a plan of action to address such factors over which the institution has control. Those outside its control should be forcefully but thoughtfully brought to attention. We should agree that only an objective assessment is helpful and productive. Let's get this right.

JTA conference

The third Sunday in August marks the start of the JTA annual conference. It is the occasion when the association installs a new president who delivers an inaugural address that sets out the leadership agenda for the ensuing year. The outgoing president delivers an address which encapsulates his or her achievements as well as any unfinished business. The leadership of the ministry attends the conference and the minister gives an address. All the speeches are usually fiery, for it is an occasion for such. If they are not, the conference is likely to be described as boring and the speakers "dead". Are we to expect anything different this year? Yes and no.

The speeches will still be fiery. However, agitations for salary increases are likely to be subdued while unlikely to be embraced, based on the parlous state of the country's finances. Even demands for improvement to physical infrastructure may be met with a polite "we can't afford it now". At the same time, the ministry's inability to meet reasonable demands for strategic investment in capacity building such as empowering more schools to learn with and through technology to secure better results will induce a more reflective approach and an appreciation of the realities on the ground. The more measured tone of both parties will enhance a positive atmosphere for facing the inevitable challenges ahead.

Is the occasion strategic for any one of the speeches or deliberations to touch on the need for sharply defined outcomes for the reintroduction of civics as a discrete subject in the curriculum in 2012/13 and how the knowledge may be effectively translated into practice? Should a public call be made for the active involvement of the adult population in exhibiting civic behaviour?

I do not expect the issue of licensing teachers to remain a staple topic anymore. Instead, I expect that attention will be focused on empowering teachers to become autonomous professionals in the classroom. I also expect that the issue of making classrooms more inclusive by policy and practice will be discussed. Over the last few years the cohorts of students have experienced separation or exclusion. Many are excluded from sitting the primary school exit examination (GSAT). This could have been avoided. Rigid streaming is still rampant in many schools. Plans were afoot to separate students by placing some in

boot camp-type settings, thus reinforcing social alienation. These approaches do not accord with best practices and should be reviewed.

A quality experience for every cohort of students is an entitlement that should be honoured. Whether policy or school programme, the aim should be to start it right, keep it right, right along. An entire cohort can be successful if planned.


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