The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet. — Aristotle.
The hustle and bustle associated with a new academic year is here. However, to a great extent, the 2015/2016 academic year will commence similar to previous years beset by myriad fixable problems. It bears thought that, as a society, we have become satisfied with mediocrity. This is evident in our continuation to celebrate pockets of excellence scattered across all 14 parishes, three counties, and six regions of Jamaica’s education system. Disturbingly, there has been a gradual decrease in our pockets of excellence. This is unacceptable and clearly indicates that we need to become proactive in order to improve Jamaica’s education system.
The gravity of Jamaica’s education system is documented in the 2014 National Education Inspectorate (NEI) report which stated that more than 60 per cent of the country’s primary and secondary schools are failing in their education delivery to the nation’s children. As a result, more and more of our students continue to leave high school unprepared for the world of work or unable to matriculate to the tertiary level. This feeds Jamaica’s youth employment rate of 33.3 per cent. Clearly, this is a recipe for crime.
The genesis of the phenomenon of failing schools in the society lies with poor leadership and a lack of accountability. Sadly, too many of our school administrators are merely perfunctory leaders without the zeal and zest for human capacity formation. Added to this dilemma is the fact that we have a relatively weak middle management structure of senior teachers across most schools. According to Dr Renee Rattray, director of education programmes at the Jamaica National Foundation, “Many of the middle managers are promoted to positions of seniority without adequate preparation.” This is clearly a flaw in our education system and one that urgently needs to be remedied. There needs to be on-the-job training and workshops for those who are selected as senior teachers. Probably we need to examine how senior teachers are promoted in the first instance. It is an open secret that the promotion of senior teachers is based largely on the fancy of school administrators. In many instances senior teachers are lacking in the area of professionalism and many lack integrity and therefore are poor examples for their junior colleagues. This practice continues to frustrate the education system. The continued practice of principals’ pets becoming senior teachers is driving many talented and young teachers from the classroom.
Our policymakers and educators need to keep abreast of best practices and teaching trends elsewhere. It is rather troubling that a significant number of our students are leaving high schools without the necessary skill sets to critically analyse situations and arrive at solutions.
Jamaica could benefit by examining a different educational model such as the Waldorf Education which was founded by Austrian-born Rudolf Steiner, who was an educator, scientist and philosopher. Waldorf education is based on an understanding that the key to developing problem-solving skills for the 21st century is an active imagination and a commitment to pursuing one’s purpose in life. The Waldorf curriculum carefully balances academic, artistic, and practical activities to stimulate the imagination and prepare the students for life. Rather than relying on rote memorisation of standardised information, Waldorf education seeks to engage the whole child in the learning process. Our students need to view education as a seamless patchwork connecting all subjects, instead of compartmentalising the offering of the various subjects.
With the Waldorf model every subject is taught artistically, using movement, drawing, painting, music, storytelling, and rhythm; teachers bring the material to life and endow the developing child with a lifelong sense of wonder and a joy of learning. Whether our students become anthropologists or police officers, mathematicians or musicians, the creative capacities developed through a Waldorf education will give students the foundation they require to be successful and adapt to changing circumstances.
Interestingly, once you enter a Waldorf school you are struck by the care given to the school plant. The walls are usually painted in lively colours and adorned with student artwork. As a society we have paid little attention to the colour schemes of our schools despite the research that highlights benefits that bright and lively colours have on the teaching/learning process. Clearly, the Waldorf approach to education is student-centred and this serves to empower and motivate students as well as assist in their capacity to develop a yearning for lifelong learning.
Teachers using this model exhibit much enthusiasm, as teaching is presented in a pictorial and dynamic manner. This approach reduces the need for competitive testing. The Waldorf curriculum is broad and all encompassing covering three phases: from birth to age seven, from age seven to 14 years, and from 14 to age 18. We need to find a mixture of educational models that best fit the complexities of Jamaica’s educational landscape. This model must be consultative in scope and nature and must involved all stakeholders.
One important stakeholder we must have on board are the parents. They must become more involved in their children’s education. Data show that parents who spend quality time to monitor and offer support to their children’s school are rewarded by better returns on their investment. The ongoing gang violence in some areas will undoubtedly impact negatively on schools located in and around the vicinity. Those schools will require much support from the Education Ministry for their staff, and especially for those traumatised students. We can only hope that the Ministry of Education will be proactive and put in place the necessary support systems to facilitate a smooth opening of the new school year. We are at a critical juncture in our development especially as Jamaica recently celebrated 53 years of political independence. A well educated and skilled workforce is vital for us to have sustainable development and to pull ourselves out of the economic crisis in which we find ourselves. All hands are needed on deck to turn around Jamaica’s pockets of excellence to a widespread increase in the delivery of educational outcomes regardless of school. We are all accountable to the children of Jamaica. This academic year, let us draw inspiration from our athletes who recently competed at the 15th IAAF World Championships. It takes a team effort, dedication and commitment to reap success.
Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. — Malcolm X
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and gender issues. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.