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The architecture of education

Franklin Johnston
Friday, August 03, 2012

The mix of education and business in one's repertoire is a blessing. Offensive e-mails from name-brand people now force me to be self-referential, return to this topic and assert why we should not spend taxpayers' cash recklessly. Regarding my putative salary, my daughter says: "Dad, you are a public servant and now people know you did not leave London for the money." My aim is not to debate education, but to fix it. This 50th Jubilee is a watershed for education. Why? Despite underperformance of decades the seminal answers were never sought until now. How could they fix it? Don't criticise only, give some help. Do you know education generates near 150,000 jobs? Who maps the architecture of the education enterprise? Who drills down to find the value received for near $80 billion spent each year? Who does stress tests for ICT systems? Who warned us of a teacher crisis - some 2,000 jobless, more on our payroll have no kids to teach; why do colleges churn out more to add to the glut? Who will get student loans off the budget and into banks, now banks have "money to stone dog" and Cabinet has none? Who spent millions on five-year curricula, with no evidence it is better than a six-month one and why? Academia, like every other industry, protects its own. The architecture is crucial. It evolved in a post-slavery society in great pain and hope when we were "hewers of wood". The foundations are weak, the superstructure rickety, deliverables are vague yet cost the taxpayer a bomb. Let's unpack a few elements.

Education is big business and out of sync. New elements were grafted to flawed bases, experts major in the minor, but none appreciates the architecture. The deficit of implementation and accountability may be at pandemic levels. In the core business of teaching and learning, the deficit in contact hours may be criminal; inadequate leave provisions and practices mean little learning takes place in school yet costs us $50 billion. The stats on literacy and numeracy are dismal and an oral in English and mental maths may reveal deep disaster. Ask employers and universities about students' English and weep. The vested interests are strong so change must be consensual. Let us fix the foundations, prise the superstructure into place and repair the consequential damage. We can do it. Teachers are wise, well-disposed and know "what o'clock a strike!" We must now uplift education as "One Jamaica!" - no recriminations; forward ever!

The hard elements in our education architecture are as tectonic plates. One level rests on the other, instability in one is amplified in others and none can be fixed in isolation. Many experts do not know the symmetry, balance and functionality of the architecture. There are eight plates: (a) Early childhood-pre-school (b) early childhood-Infant/basic school (c) special education (d) primary (e) secondary (f) tertiary (g) adult/lifelong learning (h) governance, logistics and management. If these are not aligned, expect failure. The root is early childhood - a shared task - and the crown is the governance module for which the state alone is accountable. Don't tinker with plates with no notion of how they relate as the costs are horrendous. Our planning aesthetic reveals big gaps in the architecture and by triage we must move on to the lifesaving work. We need nimble, insightful, creative managers and educators to do this.

The architecture has articulating tissues to buffer the plates. These include musculature, tendons, bushings and sensors, so all elements cohere or work in harmony. Some elements are corroded, some lost flexibility or viscosity, lines clogged and pulse poor; curricula lose fluidity, pedagogy is rigid; oversight is overlooked and school is dysfunctional. The progression to the top plates should be seamless. So, are infants ready for Grade 1? Is Grade 6 work properly linked to Grade 7? Are MOE data on students used to help teaching and learning? "Not my problem now, let the next teacher sort it out." Well-aligned plates rest lightly but securely, bushings firm but flexible. We must get each level of schooling right to produce conscious, educated students, and good articulation of levels is essential.

Early childhood - the 2700 outside basic schools - is the weak link in the architecture. Do you know 80 per cent of infants are not in the official system? You say money should go to other levels; we say first bring in the infants, complete the system and let's see. Early childhood education is the undisputed priority. Parents of kids from the second trimester to age three must be coaxed, or state benefits tied to attendance at clinic, crèche, play group, etc. The next generation must not suffer as this one. Private people and faith bodies run the best schools and we must also incentivise these schools to clone their good work. We need no polymath to tell us when we compare school levels on access, cost, quality, value added EC comes out tops in ROI and economic benefit. Are you on a mission? Get trained or retrained in summer school and teach. Our most malleable minds are in infant schools, we need our finest teachers there.

Teaching is the oldest profession and teaching and learning are the raison d'être of school. Aristotle, Plato, Jesus, Paul, Muhammad (peace be upon him) and other great teachers spent long contact time with pupils. Today it is flaky and kids have no union to speak for them. A good teacher transforms a bad class but a poor teacher can't help a good class. A teacher moves mountains no minister, chairman or principal can. Can we ask teachers to commit to work 250 contact days for five years to sort out schools? Can we ask parents to do their utmost for kids? Can Cabinet give a bonus to all EC teachers up to 2020? Can we ask a sacrifice of all areas of society so we meet Vision 2030 goals? We can do it!

The education architecture runs on money. When you spend near $80 billion you are massive. Spending $40 billion-plus on payroll is huge. Show me one firm. And as it's taxpayers' cash, deadly! Education needs hard bodies - managers; HR, education, ICT, finance analysts; due diligence; management accountants and slave drivers. Money spoken here! It also needs investment. Special Ed needs facilities for the gifted, as one Bob Marley pays for hundreds of less gifted and our global brand. Poor kids are the largest of the gifted cohort, yet we ignore them. Why? Many people conflate and confuse the concept of "gifted" with "privileged". The liberals who fund kids with LD to achieve their potential forget that the gifted poor need to achieve theirs too. Does a poor seven year old with a beautiful mind deserve no help? This prejudice is jarring. About 90 per cent of all education provision is spent on normal kids and kids with LD. The likely Jobs, Menuhin, Picasso or Hawking get little and may never achieve their potential. Jamaica is poorer for this. For 50 years we milk athletes and entertainers; do you know the priority of music and PE in school? More anon! Most people see no kudos in helping the gifted who may give us great innovation, yet they compete to help the brain-dead who impact very few people - weird! Stay conscious!

Emancipation: We must celebrate emancipation but if freedom needs justification it may be in how we use it. Did we use the last 175 years well? Did lack of freedom hold us back? How? Freedom includes freedom to do nothing; what did we do? Jews have one country yet run a lot of the world and shame their old masters. Let's emancipate ourselves from mental slavery and make Jamaica prosper.

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


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