Click here to print page

Don't be dismissive of JTA president's concerns

BY MARK MALABVER

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

At the 54th annual conference of the JTA, newly installed President Dr Garth Anderson opined that the education system was not yet ready for the Primary Exit Profile (PEP) examination, and that it was destined for failure.

In response to these assertions, the minister of education Senator Ruel Reid proclaimed that it was full speed ahead for the full roll-out of PEP. He further asserted that the president was playing to the gallery and that what he said was not the reality that existed on the ground.

PEP is a most welcoming replacement for GSAT. The main thrust of PEP is to inculcate critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving skills in the students who will be exposed to the curriculum. This will most certainly better prepare these students for the curriculum at the secondary school level.

However, I am very disappointed by the fact that at the very least we have not begun to have dialogue about the need to better realign how students are assigned space in secondary schools.

Since his pronouncements at the JTA conference Dr Anderson has gotten some amount of criticism, almost to the point of being dismissive. There is a common saying that “If fish come from the bottom of the sea and tell yu seh shark down deh, yu need fi believe him.”

By virtue of the fact that he is the JTA president, Dr Anderson is in a very good position to articulate the concerns of teachers who will be on the front line of the education system, particularly as it relates to PEP. Based on his assertions, the teachers obviously have some legitimate concerns about the implementation of PEP.

Minister Reid should therefore not dismiss these concerns as Dr Anderson merely playing to the gallery. Effective and transformational leadership demands that the JTA president should be engaged in a very meaningful way to identify the specific issues and come up with solutions. Teachers and students are the most important stakeholders as it relates to the implementation of PEP. If their collective concerns are not addressed in a significant and meaningful way, then the positive impact of PEP on the students will be significantly delayed.

 

Managing change

 

GSAT has been with us for years. It is a part of the natural psyche of Jamaicans and very much culturally engrained in the education system. Change in any organisation or system is never easy, and resistance is quite natural and should be an expected part of the process. In fact, I have oftentimes said to my senior management staff that resistance to change is a good thing, and that change must be properly and effectively managed in order to ensure that desired outcomes are achieved within a reasonable time. How the leadership responds to the resistance is also of critical importance.

Whilst important, it is not enough to just tell me what has been done by the MOE (Ministry of Education)to prepare the system for the implementation of PEP.

This, I believe, is the real failing of the education ministry. The change model that is often- times used by the MOE can best be described as a top-down model. My experience therefore is that, consultation sessions about various MOE initiatives are more of a sensitisation session, where information flows from the hishest level downwards. Rarely is feedback solicited in a very meaningful and genuine way.

Information flow with respect to implementation of the various initiatives is often one-sided. Most times the views and concerns of those who are on the front line of the Jamaican education system, who have a vast amount of information and knowledge as to the realities that exist on the ground, are not taken seriously enough. You are often told that the pilot study is either under way or that it went well. I have never been to a session in which the data and findings from any pilot study are actually shared.

 

System overload

Within the last two to three years there have been numerous initiatives by the MOE. Under the National Standards Curriculum (NSC) there is the grade four and five achievement test, which is a part of PEP. Then there is the Alternative Pathway to Secondary Education (APSE), in which students are placed on different pathways based on their level of competency in literacy and numeracy. There is also the Career Advancement Programme (CAP), which is essentially a two-year extension of schooling at the secondary level.

In addition, there are the occupational degree programmes and the School Wide Positive Behavioural intervention and support. The school-leaving diploma programme is scheduled to come on stream soon. This list is by no means exhaustive and we have not even mentioned changes in the CSEC curriculum and changes in relation to how students will be doing those examinations in the very near future.

These initiatives and programmes, for the most part, are good for the education system as a whole. However, these changes need to be properly managed in order to ensure effective implementation. Throwing all of these initiatives almost simultaneously at the system is either going to or has already resulted in system overload. There needs to be complete buy-in into some of these programmes. I am equally sure that not all hands are yet on deck in regards to their implementation.

There is also the issue of adequate funding for all of these programmes. Notwithstanding the fact that schools are being promised adequate resources for these programmes, that has never really been the case. No school can truly say that they have got all that they need to properly implement these programmes, particularly as it relates to the teaching and learning process.

I expect the narrative of the MOE to be as it has always been, that it is “all systems go”. However, the reality on the ground is a completely different thing. Frankly speaking, the MOE may be spreading itself too thin. What is the full budget to implement these programmes and is that funding in place? If the answer is yes, then why haven't certain critical teaching and learning materials been delivered to the schools as yet?

At this late stage I seriously question why it is that the JTA was not “bawling out” a long time ago about the state of readiness of the system to effectively roll out PEP. Dr Anderson certainly cannot expect that the MOE, with less than a week before the start of the new school year, will make an about-face and delay by as much as three years the implementation of PEP.

Why have they not been advocating on behalf of the teachers in relation to their concerns about PEP and various other initiatives? I seriously hope that Dr Anderson's leadership will result in greater advocacy and agitation for improvement in the education system as a whole.

On the other hand, even if his assessment of the state of readiness is correct, don't expect the MOE to admit it. They are going to paint a picture that everything is at the heights of readiness for the full roll-out of PEP, CAP, etc. Wrong and strong seem to be a part of the DNA of governments.

 

Solutions

The top- down model of implementing change in our education system is very much obsolete. Research has shown that this model results in waste of much-needed resources and is the least impactful. The MOE certainly needs to consider other change models. Whilst I have a proclivity for Kotter's change model, two other popular ones are Lewin's and Roger's.

A better approach to implementing the change in relation to PEP would have perhaps been for each primary school to have at least one teacher that is trained to be a “change tzar”. These persons should be sufficiently empowered with the knowledge and skill sets to go back to their institutions and impart their knowledge to the staff. They would become resource persons for the school and push the change agenda. This would not have replaced any of the workshops or the poor excuse for consultation sessions that the MOE would have undertaken.

The MOE also needs to give due consideration to engaging the services of an organisational change consultant to better guide the process of change in the education system. In addition, they need to develop proper systems of information flow in regards to the change.

There is certainly a need for the MOE to spend more time creating that sense of urgency for change within the education system. I have had my fill with the grandstanding and the grand announcements. We need to better manage changes.

Many of these programmes should be phased in. This would allow more time for preparation on the part of stakeholders, and it will also allow enough time for adequate funding to be put in place. In addition, it will allow for the level of anxiety that tends to come with organisational changes to be significantly reduced. Furthermore, it will allow enough time for adjustments to be made based on feedback from the ground up.

Minister Reid often proclaims himself to be a transformational leader. James McGregor Burns posits that there are four main elements of transformational leadership. These are: individualised consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivations, and idealised influence. He should therefore give due consideration to the concerns of those who are on the front line of education in the country, be more responsive to these concerns and even solicit their ideas.

In going forward, the JTA too must be a part of the solution. They must provide feedback as to what is happening on the ground with their membership in a timely manner as it relates to the various initiatives of the MOE. They must be brought into the process as part of the dialogue and as such will be able to keep their fingers on the pulse of their membership.

Sometimes it takes a revolution to bring about a change. However, that revolution will not be achieved if the critical stakeholders do not buy into the revolution. To achieve this there must be continuous and sustainable dialogue amongst all stakeholders.

 

— Mark Malabver is principal of Yallahs High School and chairman of the Inner City Teachers Coalition

MarkMalabver@yahoo.com.