EDITORIAL – Lashes for education officials
Minister of Education Ronald Jones is not averse to delivering public tongue lashings to whip subordinates in his ministry into action. This style of management has not been welcomed by many, especially teachers and principals, but it has clearly indicated his dissatisfaction with some aspect of their performance.
Jones’ latest rebuke, though, would make all right-thinking people ask school officials just what they’re doing.
Imagine in 2011 a Minister of Education complaining of not knowing how many students were in secondary schools last school year.
And why should it take two terms for schools to provide requested information when the technology is readily available to facilitate data analysis?
Like Jones, we are perplexed.There should be mechanisms in place to collate such basic data to facilitate easy dissemination. If after all these years there isn’t a procedure, we need to find out why. And if a mechanism does exist but is not followed by all schools, then why is such tardiness allowed?
It is well known that proper and efficient use of statistics leads to better policy and development outcomes. So, like Jones, we see this lack of basic information as retarding effective planning of various intervention programmes.
As the minister pointed out: “Schools should know where every one of their children comes from because it sets up a social dynamic that other school agencies might need; social welfare might need it.
“For the primary schools, [we] have set aside half-million dollars to support those students who are unable to buy workbooks. How are we going to know in primary schools who those children are unless you have that data informed by social reality?”
The minister also noted there was a gap between the figures provided for the number of students in a year group and the number who receive certificates or sit exams.
He said: “We need to know who left our schools without one certificate. It is not about those taking the exam and using those statistics, relevant and important as they are . . .If a school has 1 000 students in each year group, don’t bring me statistics that show 500 who take exams. Bring the other 500 and say where they have gone, so when we see statistics we have the exact knowledge of what is going on.”
Again, we ask, how can this be?
Didn’t anyone in the Ministry of Education recognize the need to track these children and analyze the trends leading to their failure?
Did these officials not realize that in keeping tabs on these children they would be able to show the correlation between their education and job opportunities, involvement in crime, early parenthood, and poverty? This empirical evidence would allow for more informed policies to address these individuals’ needs.
Was it not seen, too, that knowing the whereabouts of these children would enable officials to find them more easily and facilitate a second chance for them?
In a small country like Barbados, not only is this desirable, it should also be mandatory.
Given the expenditure on education annually, the minister has every right to believe these monitoring and evaluating tools should be in place to ensure taxpayers’ children get every possible opportunity to succeed in school. And if they fail to do so, to at least have a second chance.
Jones’ revelations suggest that ministry officials have been asleep at the wheel for some time.
As we admire the wealth of information we can get from developed countries like the United States and Canada, and use it to make timely decisions, we need that same information flow here to do a similar task.
Minister Jones is therefore quite right in his rebuke of what obtains in his ministry, and the officials there need to get their act together. Only then will the Education Management Information System, upon its full implementation throughout the school network, be able to provide academic, attendance and class records at the click of a button.