Enhancing school quality
Published: Jul 19, 2013
If you should check some of the most prominent Caribbean newspapers you would find that recently much is being written about the quality of education in Caribbean schools; and the relevance of this education for the workplace and the society at large.
Anthony Griffith, a former senior lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, recently wrote an article in the newspaper the Nation News titled “Schools in need of upgrade”.
In it, he advocates that the focus should be on enhancing the use of technology and electronics to improve teaching and learning, and the quality of administration in the schools. He further observes that most, if not all of the schools in his country are acutely in need of more effectively functioning computer labs offering more regular and organized access by a greater number of students to the Internet. Also, he says that, in some schools, teachers face challenges in getting classroom learning materials copied or printed for their students and some are forced to copy, or print, these materials at their own expense.
The former senior lecturer again states that the quality and level of technical instruction in secondary schools in his country needs to be upgraded, and that a tertiary level institution of technology, offering training in a number of technical areas, would be critical to this upgrading. He then questions how many of his country’s schools have, or can claim to have, a real genuine library or resource center, and notes that access to quality learning resources is critical to student success.
These observations by Griffith are not new. Indeed, I had thought that many of the issues he raised had been solved. But it seems that where education in the Caribbean is concerned, nothing really changes significantly. We would have thought that the use of various types of technology in the schools generally was common. But this seems not to be the case. Indeed Griffith is right that the enhanced use of technology improves teaching and learning, and school management. But the educator does not say what kind and quality of technology, and what outputs would result.
The constant cry in many Caribbean schools is access by a greater number of students to the Internet and, of course, the problem of relevant teaching and learning materials has persisted, where teachers, in many instances, have to copy and print materials at their expense. Yet, society expects good results from the schools. I have known of some tertiary institutions that deny students access to the Internet, even though these students have access in their homes.
Technology in many institutions is regarded as a status symbol, rather than an educational tool. It makes learning easier and economizes on time. It also facilitates research into areas of knowledge that most teachers do not have, if they are not with it, and this makes the formal textbook as we know it of limited use since in many areas the information is more current and is more readily shared.
Technology in the classroom also places the student on par with the teacher, knowledgewise, and with different programs for different areas knowledge acquisition and use become easier. It also makes better management of information through storage, retrieval and the updating and better organization of such information. Schools should therefore allocate a high percentage of their resources to its upgrading and use.
On the issue of the quality and level of technical instruction in secondary schools, and the need to upgrade it, I agree with Griffith. I have known of persons who say their area is technical education, but lack content and methodology. And some overseas examination bodies have complained that the depth and expanse of knowledge required were lacking in the performance of students whose papers they saw.
Also, it is not clear what students in these technical areas would be able to do on leaving their institutions, what their level of performance is and where they could be placed in the workplace based on the qualifications they bring to it. Furthermore, there seems to be a disconnect between the school and the workplace as to what is required. Some instructors also have never had experience of working on a worksite. They only have formal book knowledge and cannot relate it to the practical area concerned. Some even have difficulty processing and interpreting the knowledge. In this case, both the school and its clients are disadvantaged. The educational institutions need to remedy these issues if school quality is to be enhanced.
Again, I agree with the writer of the article that a tertiary level institution offering programs in the various areas of technology would be able to fix the technology deficit in schools, and so upgrade their programs. And the question posed by the article concerning how many schools have, or can claim to have, a real genuine library or resource center is a valid one. A quality school with quality learning programs is essential to a quality education. We can’t expect students to perform to expectations if the schools are not provided with the educational assets to make this happen.
In addition to having various modern technologies, the quality school needs to have professional teachers who are well qualified in their area. Their subject concentration should be broad, including a number of courses relating to the same area. And they should be trained in how to teach at the secondary level. They should be able to challenge students, enriching their critical faculties, and encourage them to be creative, and innovative. In addition, the quality school requires its teachers to be kind, gentle and caring persons, who do not shout at or threaten students.
Any challenges should be approached through professional counseling, since each educator would be required to be a professional counselor as well. And the environment of the school should be pleasant, welcoming and people centered; its management efficient and professional, and it should be representative of the kind and quality of positive values that operate in the wider society itself.
• Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree from Dalhousie University in Canada and an MA from the University of London. He is a past permanent secretary in education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Published with the permission of caribbeannewsnow.com.