The media has been full the last few days with stories of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in terms of the Grade 6 assessments. Whilst a few students bask in their scores, thousands more lament the results. Lists are made of the ‘good ‘ schools in terms of their exam results. The criteria for a ‘good’ school being one or more student in the top 1%. No mention, of course, is made of the many others who ‘failed’ the exam from the same ‘good schools.’ This is not Guyana’s challenge alone. A popular writer, John Holt, wrote a best seller, with the first line, “most children in school fail.” They fail to develop more than a tiny percent of their capacity. Education worldwide is blindly focussed on a slavish pursuit of ‘completing the syllabus,’ with precious little reflection on how much of that sacred syllabus really matters. Few syllabi worldwide give more than scant attention to the environment, sexuality issues or world citizenship.
Whatever the merits of the Grade 6 assessment it is surely time for a radical look at what we are doing in education in Guyana. The Commission on Enquiry has come and gone and we read in the papers over the past few days that **% of students failed English, *** failed Maths and *** failed Science. So where do we go from here?
School of Nations has made one attempt to respond to this urgent need in our education system by introducing the Cambridge University Certificate in Educational Leadership programme in Guyana. This is being offered in collaboration with the Ministry of Education. The Chief Education Officer, Mr Hutson, recently arranged for the Director of Nations, Dr Brian O’Toole, to meet with all the Regional Education Officers (REdOs) to discuss the programme and how it could be implemented across Guyana.
The first cohort of 35 teachers and administrators is now close to completion of the Certificate programme. A second group is to start in September. Significantly, seven of the REdOs are pursuing the programme themselves.
Mr Nigel Richards, REdO for Region #1, has organised the Cambridge Certificate for his region and 30 teachers gathered in Mabaruma last weekend to start the programme. This is being done in collaboration with the 23 trained teachers who are here in Guyana for the summer from USA as part of the LRTT (Limited Resource Teacher Training) programme.
The REdOs of Essequibo Coast and Berbice are planning meetings with all the Head Teachers in their regions to introduce the Cambridge Certificate programme in their region. Also plans are in train to take the programme to Rupununi and Mahdia.
The Cambridge University Certificate programme focuses on leadership and the need for fundamental reform in education, not just in Guyana, but worldwide.
The Certificate begins by exploring the challenges facing education throughout the world and why so many children are failing. The texts that accompany the course explore what contributes to the most successful education systems internationally, eg in South Korea, Canada, Singapore and Finland, and why other countries, despite their wealth, such as USA and UK, are falling behind.
In the ‘progressive’ countries there is very little disparity between the best and the ‘poorer’ schools. In Canada, for example, there are good schools throughout the country, even in very isolated regions. In these countries, unlike Guyana, teaching is regarded as a very attractive profession.
One of the course texts states that a number of urban schools in the US are “sinkholes for poor minorities,” with a range of ages and abilities in one class. Teachers are suffering from the demands of satisfying parents whilst, at the same time, attempting to respond to the competing demands of politicians and school administrators.
But rather than dwelling on problems the Cambridge programme explores what can be done to respond to the challenge. Fundamental to the programme is the need for a whole school focus. The course promotes a reflective, inquiring, problem solving approach. Key elements of the Certificate programme are: how to get more teachers of quality, the need to promote more rigorous teacher training and the need to reflect on how to cultivate an ethos of striving for excellence on the part of persons in education.
Charismatic Leadership only produces temporary gains. There needs to be a move to a model of distributive leadership in which the focus is on changing the whole school. With charismatic leadership others just sit back and expect the leaders to do everything, heroic leaders in fact prevent the emergence of strong institutions. We need to promote and nurture Emotional Intelligence in our teachers and move away from the arrogance and inflexibility of the past and embrace an atmosphere of self-awareness and empathy that will allow teachers to meet the stresses of modern day teaching.
One of the Cambridge texts states that 40% of US teachers from Nursery to 5th Form teachers are “disillusioned” and are just waiting to leave the job. An essential element of the Certificate course is that good teaching is actually very hard and needs extensive training, the focus is to work with groups and not individual teachers. We don’t need more ‘projects,’ rather, we need a coherent plan. We need to move away from the fragmented, faddish and inflexible approach that we have pursued in education for too long.
We need to move away from being consumed by data which often focuses on failures and on what can be easily measured. Teachers need to learn how to learn and how to embrace change and take risks. For far too long teachers have felt powerless and without a voice. Their response is to leave the job.
We need to appreciate that good teaching is actually very hard and demands extensive training. In sport, the arts, music it is the same. Ronaldo, Beyonce or Halle Berry rehearse and practice constantly – why should it be any different for teachers?
We need to develop ‘souls’ within our schools, characterised by care, trust and empathy on the part of the teachers. We need to help our teachers feel they are part of something bigger.
The wider community needs to be more effectively involved in schools. In Singapore there is a clear sense of pride and national direction and a very clear sense of where they want to go. How can we develop that same ethos in Guyana?
If we fail to begin this consultation the danger is that we will have more Commissions of Inquiry, more conferences and more state papers and still the key issues remain unresolved. In the UK and USA this failure results in riots as the poor hit out at their lack of opportunity. How will the scenario play out in Guyana if we fail to act?
Dr Brian O’Toole, Director, Nations