Quality input equals quality output

BY Oniel Madden

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

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Despite the many uncertainties faced by a lot of prospective tertiary-level applicants, especially as they pursue financing their studies, they are often filled with exceeding joy when they get their acceptance letters to start college/university. Many believe that this is the most viable route through which one can attain economic stability to provide for oneself and one's family after graduation three or four years later. Consequently, numerous sacrifices and efforts are made to ensure that the esteemed degree is obtained in the end.

Speaking at a recent symposium on quality education, led by the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ), Dr Phylicia Marshall, assistant chief education officer in the Ministry of Education, echoed similar sentiments by stating that: “Students who seek to attend our institutions do so with the expectation that they will be receiving a quality educational experience, and that the certificate that they obtain at the end of their programme of study will be recognised locally and internationally. They, and their families, will oftentimes expend considerable financial resources in the confidence that the institutions are operating within the parameters of nationally and internationally accepted standards.” ( Jamaica Observer, March 13, 2019)

While I commend the UCJ's quest to constantly regulate and improve the overall quality of the educational landscape in Jamaica, I would like to draw attention to the inability of certain local institutions to maintain the quality of their lecturers or the quality offered to students by their academic staff. In an international communication management elective that I took at the master's level, I learned that it is one's curriculum vitae and cover letter that are used to qualify an applicant for an interview. After being shortlisted, it is the interview that will determine which candidate gets the job. Now, to be employed at the tertiary level to teach undergraduate courses, it is my understanding, based on numerous adverts that I have seen, that the minimum conventional requirements are a master's degree and at least five years of experience teaching at the secondary level. Undoubtedly, there are certain variables that the recruiting panel can take into consideration based on the candidates who apply. Although there is deep truth to the saying that “experience teaches wisdom”, aren't we being hypocritical and downplaying quality when we employ teachers with only a first degree to teach students who are themselves preparing a degree at the same level? This practice also contradicts the vision and mission statements of said institutions which often emphasise their objective to produce graduates of the highest standard and quality.

Let's consider a contextualised example of a foreign language teacher; this is more practical for me as a specialist in the field. One of our hopes as language teachers is for our students to become fluent in the language(s) that we teach. This includes speaking spontaneously and with a certain speed – native or native-like; mastering syntax and expressions; and having a high level of culture, etc. In order for our students to develop all of these competencies those who teach them should have an advanced level in the language and exposure to the culture. I would highly recommend that these teachers study in a country where the language is spoken as a native/official language. This is helpful for both the teacher and his/her students.

In my practice as a teacher of English here in France, I have happened to teach students who are native English speakers and others with a native-like level. For my recruitment, the advert specifically highlighted that the applicant should have certain basic requirements, including being a native speaker and having a master's degree.

While many students who study languages at the tertiary level in Jamaica are Jamaicans, there may be cases, because of regional integration, where teachers may have to teach francophone natives from Haiti or Hispanic natives from Venezuela or other parts of Latin America. Notwithstanding, some of our very own Jamaican natives go to tertiary institutions with an upper intermediate level in the language, French/Spanish. It, therefore, means that when they graduate, they should see a marked difference in their language level. A foreign language lecturer, thus, should be competent enough to deliver a lesson in the target language. This may not be easy for non-natives, but there could be a 70/30 system, where he/she uses 70 per cent of the target language and 30 per cent of English, for example. Here, I am particularly referring to cases where students are majoring in languages. It would be embarrassing to have students with a high language level in a class, and the lecturer cannot maintain a conversation with such students.

It is not automatic that, because a teacher had a good success rate in the secondary system, he or she will be a great lecturer. While many students who attend university are still teenagers or young adults, there are others who do not fall in this age range; thus, lecturers should be dynamic enough to cater to the learning styles and multiple intelligences of all categories of students. Methods and approaches that are specific to adult education must be included in lessons to reach everyone as best as possible.

Additionally, one of the mistakes we make as lecturers is to believe that all of our learners learn the same way we do. As part of quality, we must reflect on inclusion in education and cater to differentiated learning. Teacher-trainers, especially, often have the best advice to give to pre-service teachers in terms of how to address the needs of their future learners; however, they most times fall short in practising what they preach.

As an undergraduate student, I often wondered why we were asked to do an assessment of certain courses/lecturers at the end of a given semester. I had this particular lecturer almost every semester throughout my entire programme, sometimes for more than one course. The feedback from the students was always the same – mostly unsatisfactory performance – and nothing changed. Numerous complaints were made to the head of department at the time; still, there was no improvement.

What is unfortunate is that some educators of this description will continue in the system until their retirement. Students will continue to suffer from their unpreparedness for class, outdated pedagogy and content, unfair assessment, and lack of quality teaching. I am positive that this attitude would not be tolerated under certain management systems.

It is my firm belief that lecturers cheat students when they deprive them of a quality education. It is unfair for students, notably those who struggle to finance their studies, to deal with situations like this. Maybe the publication of assessment results would lead to improved performance.

Is it now an opportune time to question whether lecturers, too, should be paid based on performance?

Let us face the facts: The quality of input that students receive will determine the quality of output they will later give in the workplace. In a recent conversation while on mission in Jamaica last month, a lecturer of foreign language said to me that the graduates of a particular teacher-training institution are very good at pedagogy, but when it comes on to content students who attend another institution have a higher language level. Quality staff will certainly produce quality students.


Oneil Madden is a PhD candidate in didactics and linguistics at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France. Send comments to the Observer or oneil.madden@uca.fr.

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