They almost got it right

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They almost got it right

This Principal's Point

By Aretha P Willie

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

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Upon receiving the invitation for the “high-priority” information session designed for parents in Kingston and St Andrew in anticipation of the unusual start to academic year 2020-2021, for Saturday, July 25, 2020 at 6:30 pm, excitement flowed through my veins. Finally the Ministry of Education was way ahead of schedule — certainly a refreshing experience, I reasoned. And I firmly believe that credit must be given, liberally, when deserved.

So, at 6:35 pm, when attempts were made to join the meeting, reality struck!

The participants maxed out at 1,000. My phone was on fire with WhatsApp messages. The little traction that the Ministry of Education had gained in my estimation was lost instantly.

It is difficult for me to process the fact that 'they' invited parents of Region One to a meeting and only made provisions for 1,000 attendees. My institution has a student population of over 1,200. Imagine if one parent per household made the decision to be in attendance — highly unlikely, but…

It is quite clear that 'they' do not have their fingers on the pulse of their stakeholders if they planned for only 1,000. Thankfully, all was not lost, as the plans and protocols espoused by the lone voice of the Ministry of Education, Acting Chief Education Officer Dr Kasan Troupe, were reasonable, for the most part.

The simulation activity for the first week of school is a masterstroke and will allow for school administrators to revisit any areas of concern. Also, the proposed modalities of deliveries are realistic, but what was most welcome was the stated responsibilities of school boards to make amendments according to each school's unique operational context.

I will maintain, however, that approach 'they' took could have been more efficiently and smartly executed. 'They' could have recorded the content and request that school administrators collaborate with their parent-teachers associations (PTA) and disseminate same to their parents and other stakeholders. This would have achieved the required purpose as a “high-priority” information session.

In reality, it was a monologue, so no engagement would be sacrificed. The Q&A was directly solely to the chat room, and all the questions posed were highly predictable. This included questions about branded masks, parental contributions, home-schooling, extra-curricular activities, etc.

The recording would have saved considerable time, efforts, and temperaments. Another advantage of using the recording format is that it could be utilised with the other five regions, undisturbed. The concerns expressed by the parents during Saturday's meeting would no doubt be similar to the concerns of other parents across the island.

They almost got it right. Well, maybe next time!

NB: The “they” being referred to is the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information; the National Parenting Support Commission, in partnership with National Parent-Teachers Association of Jamaica.

Please, raise your hands!

As a proud Miconian, guided by Principal Renford A Shirley in the early 1990s, it was impressed upon us at the onset how privileged we were to have been accepted into the noblest of professions. We listened to the numerous stories he regaled us with at his weekly Principal's Hour. One such that resonated with me was the need to acquire membership in a professional organisation; and he listed the many benefits and spoke about the sense of identity and integrity. Thus, immediately upon graduation, I, like most of my batch mates, applied for membership to the Jamaica Teachers' Association. Now, almost 30 years later, I am questioning the sagacity of maintaining such membership.

The Ministry of Education announced that all senior students preparing for external examinations should report for school on Monday, June 6, 2020 and, by extension, all the respective teachers. This was to be their first face-to-face interaction since the closure of schools on March 12, 2020. Surprisingly, many teachers objected to this directive, and initially stayed away from the classrooms, citing pre-existing health conditions, readiness of the school facilities, domestic arrangements for their children, among others. In fairness, some of the concerns were valid, but certainly not insurmountable. And, let's not forget that every public schoolteacher continued to enjoy their monthly salary, notwithstanding.

The surprise was the utterances of the leadership of my professional organisation, who staunchly supported and encouraged the teachers' stance, and used every opportunity to vociferously express its displeasure at the Ministry of Education's mandate. There was absolutely no room for engagement and compromise.

Now, fast-forward a little over a month later, with the COVID-19 cases climbing daily, and the same leadership is now readily embracing the Ministry of Education's blessings for summer classes, and teachers once again re-engaging their charges face to face. Why a change of heart? Aren't the stakes even higher now?

Further, did anyone take the time to listen/read carefully the Ministry of Education's permission? According to Colin Steer, the ministry's director of corporate communications, “Cabinet had granted approval for summer schools to be held for the purposes of orientation for new students and those who may be having some sort of remedial summer classes.” The directives appear to be clear cut; transitioning students from primary to secondary, and those who require specialised attention. Yet, some schools have been using various media to advertise their summer programmes, both traditionally and online. There have been no cries for pre-existing health conditions, readiness of school facilities, and their domestic and childcare arrangements. Interesting!

If I were prone to gambling, I would be celebrating my winnings, as I had predicted this very outcome over a month ago. It is no wonder that our parents and other stakeholders display nothing but apathy towards the teaching profession, as we consistently sell ourselves short. Loads of integrity and identity needed.

Raise, your hands, if you can tell in a sentence or two why the change of heart.

Aretha P Willie is a passionate educator and school principal. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or arethawillie.ghps@hotmail.com.


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