Better news, but concerns linger for education inspector

Better news, but concerns linger for education inspector

Senior staff reporter

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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THE chief inspector's findings of the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report for the period September 2015 to June 2019 have indicated improvements across all the performance indicators, but there are few areas that remain issues of concern.

The findings, shared last month, state that many of our teachers continue to demonstrate weaknesses in the enactment of student-centred pedagogies (teaching methods and practices); classrooms are generally not conducive to student-centred learning activities; there is inadequate integration across subject areas in lessons; and teachers' lesson evaluation and reflections are generally missing or inadequate.

In responding to the issue of weakness in the enactment of student-centred teaching methods, NEI Chief Inspector Maureen Dwyer explained that the National Standards Curriculum is predicated on teachers teaching differently.

“They should take a constructivist approach to the curriculum and ensure that the learners at all times are at the centre of the learning experience. You should have more collaboration in classrooms, you should have a lot of research going on — trying to bring out the children's critical thinking skills and so on,” Dwyer said. “So the classrooms should look different from the teacher-centred classrooms where the teacher is always at the front talking, to a more collaborative sort of environment where children become involved in their own learning.”

But, according to Dwyer, the inspections revealed that there are impediments to implementation of that sort of pedagogy.

“What am I talking about? You have some teachers who in real terms don't know how to enact this sort of collaboration, so they mistake group work for collaboration. But there are instances where the classrooms are not conducive. Too many students are in one classroom. It's more difficult to put groups, it's more difficult for students to move around the classroom to do other activities, so there are some impediments to getting the learner-centred pedagogy going in the Jamaican classroom,” she explained, while explicitly stating that the revelations are not about embarrassing schools, rather, stating what needs to change and providing the necessary support for the change to occur.

In relation to inadequate integration between subject areas in lessons, Dwyer said it's simply a matter of getting children to see the areas of commonality across subjects, however, at times this is missing.

“At the primary level for example, what is strongly recommended is that teachers integrate the subject areas at grades one to three. We expect that in teaching, for example, a maths lesson teachers would be using things like music, they would be using things like science, they would be using areas out of English language. In other words, it is a joined-up kind of approach to teaching and learning. So, you're not going so much into distinct subject areas but looking for areas of commonality across the subject areas and teaching the children to appreciate and to express themselves in those ways,” she said.

She added, “I can say for myself as a teacher of geography, when I used to do certain topics in geo like scales, measurements, contours and map readings — that is strongly mathematical. It's good when you can point out to the children that there is synergy between and among the subject areas, so it is strongly recommended that at grades one to three an integrated approach is used. In fact that's what the curriculum says. We look out for that too and there are times we don't see that to the extent we would want to see.”

Regarding the concern about lesson evaluations and reflections missing or being inadequate, Dwyer explained that while a lesson can be taught without a plan, having one in place allows you to understand the issues within the classroom and plan better to overcome them.

“The excellent teacher who knows his or her students will want to tailor a plan around the needs of the learners, regardless of the topic,” Dwyer said. “You want to see in a lesson plan and in the examination of a lesson that the teacher understood that not all the students are going to be learning at the same pace and learning in the same way. The reflective teacher is a teacher who would include, as much as possible, activities that will engage the different types of learners in the classroom. But we're not seeing that, and each lesson plan has to be evaluated.

“After you teach you must look back to say what went well and what should have been better. We are not getting those kind of reflection and that's the kinds of reflections that helps to build quality in teaching and quality around the school — because it's really about the children. You really want to see a body of work that says 'ok, I taught this topic, but I believe I could have done better by doing so and so. When I did so and so they really got it, so I need to go back to include so and so'. Or, this came up in my lesson and I believe I am going to have to re-teach or teach something more about that'. This kind of reflecting on your work shows that you are immersed in it and that you have the interest of the learners at heart. We're seeing more of it but we're not seeing enough,” she charged.

For Dwyer, while some teachers or schools may have these in place, she wants to see it enforced right across the length and breadth of our schools.

“Remember when you operate a school inspection framework what you're doing is pushing the areas of importance to your system — things that will make your schools better. The fact that few people might be doing it, or some might be doing it, that's not good enough. We want to know we're pushing the system towards that space where most people are doing it,” she said.

Further, she said the findings serve as a point of reflection for the education ministry and everyone who wants to see improvements in the education system.

“Principals were very happy to get their school reports and very happy that education officers were focusing with them around the areas for development. Essentially, we have a good bunch, we just have to continue to support them,” she said.

Acknowledging that change will not happen overnight, Dwyer also said she is hopeful we are moving in the right direction and offered that once individuals understand the benefits to be gained, greater efforts to change will come.

“When they see the results and when they understand the benefits to be gained, I know that we will begin to see the change that we want,” she said.

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