Columns Education Yvonne Reynolds-Bowles 

Survival of the Fittest:  Change is a given  &  planning is the Devil

– Bold, Visionary Leaders Never Fail to Plan or Plan to Fail

  Written by Yvonne Reynolds-Bowles,  yreynoldsteach@gmail.com

Overview of the Issues

For Winston Churchill, “the empires of the future are the empires of the mind.”   The Jamaican Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, Hon. Floyd Green, in a scholarships awards’ address, (23/08/18) stated that Education moves generations and people forward. So we as (the) Government have to ensure that we’re doing all we can to create that excellence in education..  History has demonstrated that the country with the best technological knowledge and its application thereof, tends to be the ruling masters of their era (Rome, Britain, America).  It is not enough to have knowledge (although a necessary foundational requirement) – you must be able to apply it in the real world (implementation acumen).

It is universally acknowledged (numerous research studies) that education is the pathway to innovation, entrepreneurship, increased social capital and economic development, – in any country.  A Federal Reserve president (USA,VA.) proclaimed in a speech, that “it’s not enough to simply prescribe what students need to know; we must also help them learn it.”  He advocated for improved effectiveness in the K-12 (primary-secondary) education system but cautioned that.”non-cognitive skills such as patience, work ethic and following directions also are critical. These are the skills that make it possible for us to acquire more-complex cognitive skills, and they also are critical for success in the labor market”.  (soft skills, emotional quotient)

The Caribbean countries comprising CARICOM have an education problem shared by many countries around the world.   If measurement of skills acquisition = student results, then data from the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) standardized tests, as well as those from Grades 2 , 4, and 6 National Assessments; upon analysis, would force one to conclude that a substantial portion of Caribbean students are not meeting the expected standards determined as demonstrating mastery in basic skills, or, in academic specific subjects.  In other words, many students are not making the grade.  On the whole, formal graduation rates and dropout numbers are unacceptable (variables are not reliably tracked, calculated or transparently documented).  If knowledge content is the foundation for economic growth and human capital development then the greater the deficit of knowledge among a population, the less is the likelihood that the country’s citizens will improve their social capital and well-being.

Normalization of Testing – Testing is NOT the Culprit

Two words “standardized test” strike fear in the hearts of teachers, school administrators, parents and students.  Education providers when asked to name the factor most responsible for the failing education system, inevitably point to the testing regime that is mandatory for level assessment, student placement and admission to the next education level.  Teachers blame the frequency with which tests are given, highlighting Finland as a good example of a country whose students excel on international exams but are not subjected to standardized exams.  Of course, they also blame student behaviour, parental inadequacies, resources deficiencies, school environment (class size, safety, bureaucracy) and the actual test structure {content and organization}).

Dictionary.com defines “standard” as something considered by an authority or by general consent as a basis of comparison; an approved model.  The Oxford dictionary defines “test” as A procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, especially before it is taken into widespread useAccording to Andrew DiamondWe call them standardized tests because every test is composed of equivalent questions, taken under similar conditions, and scoring is done in the same manner.”   So in other words, standardized tests are measurements of comparison among peers that determine (categorize) ability or competency in a specific area.

To put this issue in perspective we need to ask ourselves, When was testing not a natural, normal part of life?  We test everyone (explicitly or implicitly) on something – integrity, honesty, morality, character, physicality, health, intellect.  We test our babies to see if they are seeing, hearing, understanding.  We test our children when we give them chores or instruction.  Adults constantly assess (test) each other.   Performance evaluation (formal or informal) is a summative report of the results of continual tests.  We rank people based on tests.  We are long past the days when tests were rare, unregulated and not routinely mandated, in all walks of life.  Tests  come in many forms and their importance are weight dependent and contextual.World-wide societies laud and embrace success.  It is a (sub)conscious acceptance that one has hurdled bars to attain their current stature.  In every aspect of life, tests are a prerequisite for acceptance -gangs, military, migration, public and private employment, housing, education – to name a few.  Tests are integral to education and innately natural to learning.  Blooms taxonomy, the premier framework for categorizing education goals  (understanding of learning), tacitly compels using testing at every hierarchical learning step.  We test students’ recall, comprehension, application ability, accuracy, depth of analysis and synthesis of facts.  We test the reliability and validity of student evaluations to check their critical thinking and creative skills.  Test results reveal the approved knowledge base, critical and creative skills, a person possesses in comparison with their peers.  It proclaims the level of understanding achieved by the testee.  Hopefully educators will discard the excuse of testing as an impediment to student success and accept its normalization in a civilized, merit based society.

Test results are required by  businesses who need confirmation of intellectual ability.   Society demands transparency vis a vis capability, under-girded by education.  We require a paper trail (degrees, certificates, diplomas, licences) that confirms what you say you can do.  Most, if not all, professional service industries mandate admission certificates and continual education certification.  Of course money, family connections, and who you know networks, may mitigate or eliminate the need for documentation.  Apprenticeship, internship, and probation are ways to gain experience.   Experience and references oil the employment road.  Blind trust with no collaborative evidence (no document trail) is the currency of the desperate (employer/employee) and/or the destitute.

Student outcomes are the basis for predicting and calculating societal esteem, institutional profits, future productivity and increased well-being (individual, societal).  As evidence of achievement becomes an irreversible prerequisite for advancement, assessments have grabbed center stage. spawning a colossal education evaluation market empire.  Schumpeter’s creative destruction has forced governments to change how succeeding generations are educated.   If we are to abolish the status quo and attain the goal of success for all we must work at making the

right changes.

Understanding the Politics of Implementation

We are in the Information Age (successor of Service Age) where knowledge workers are pre-eminent and the mining, collecting, storing and analysis of data, rules.   Twenty-first century Analytics [discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data] or just old-fashioned Econometrics/Statistics, involves choosing the premise (assumptions) that go into the hypothesis that influence/determine the methodology (actual collection the data).  The choice of which data to collect determines the contextual framework for the conclusion’s interpretative spin and the solutions proffered.   Policy-analysis uses data to diagnose the problem, and the methodological process that should be used (Francis Fukuyama – applied econometrics, cost-benefit analysis, decision analysis, and, use of randomized experiments for program evaluation).


Content Standards and their Gatekeepers

The “authority” choosing the test content and creating the instruments which researchers use to measure the competency levels of all participants, is one of the true gate-keepers.  The authority is integral to understanding and contextualizing what we perceive as reality (student outcomes = student capability).  The gatekeepers are the decision-makers with unparalleled power, – culling out the education herd.  They are composed of policy makers (education policy, structure, function); the education bureaucracy (curriculum, standards); and the creators of assessments (tests).   The National Assessments as well as the CXC standardized tests, [CPEA; CCSLC; CVQ; CSEC; CAPE; CXC-AP] are the current competency measurement tools in the Caribbean.  CXC is CARICOM’s regional assessor of education standards and the creator of assessments (standardized tests).   Like the American 8th Grade Test , state graduation tests, and SAT  (Scholastic Aptitude Test), Caribbean tests are purportedly purposed to prepare students for living and succeeding in a competitive global economy.

If student outcomes are unacceptably low and economic development (innovation/entrepreneurship) mired in mediocrity, then the next logical step for analytical examination is the issue of quality – delivery, content, and structure – as it pertains to functionality, relevance and applicability to the needs of a twenty-first century workforce.  The SAT exam was discarded as the premier admissions criteria for American Ivy League colleges, after a long public debate and many longitudinal research studies about its relevance and predictor of student success. .

What is taught and how it is taught is crucial to maximizing student results on tests.  Quality control of content and delivery is central to discussions and decisions about education.   In terms of commonality across a large geographical area, the knowledge content standards underlying the CXC tests, can be compared to the Common Core Standards implemented in America.   Both are purposed to ensure valid comparisons between states/countries and with international benchmarks.   Common Core Standards have sparked loud debates in the various states in America and its effectiveness have been analysed by think tanks such as Thomas B Fordham Institute (“The State of State Standards), which concluded that Common Core standards have actually lifted the level of student competency. (Common Core Standards saw a majority of states opting out of or refusing its usage)   It may be that CXC needs to be subjected to analytical examinations to assure its suitability as the regional assessor for the twenty-first century.  Confirmation of relevance and suitability should be welcomed.

I am in total agreement with Solomon Friedberg who declared that standards are necessary but not sufficient.  He notes, “just having good standards is not enough. To make standards work, someone has to think about all the other ingredients that go into schooling. For math, that means communicating the standards in detail to teachers, finding good textbooks and other materials that follow the standards, supporting teachers in using them, designing good evaluation materials to be sure that kids are learning, and finding the expertise and resources to provide extra support for students who need it—such as students who did not learn prior material that reappears as the foundation for a new concept.”,

Dr. Samuel Lochan of UWI, School of Education, (2016) decried the disintegration of teaching quality in today’s primary schools. Hanushek (2015) highlighted the importance of primary school for inculcating essential basic skills.  In a recent publication Hanushek  et al (2018) extolled the value of smarter teachers, definitively showing a significant statistical relationship between teacher cognitive kills and student performance.  Businesses question the quality of education delivered at all level of the education spectrum as education reforms collapse into spectacular failures.  Teachers as the direct providers are also another of the gatekeepers of influencing student outcomes.  Given these realities, the urgent questions requiring solutions are simple:  How can we shift our collective thinking about education?  What needs to be done to fix the failing system?  What are we doing to become excellent?  How are we fulfilling W Arthur Lewis’ challenge? 


New Thinking to Create New Realities

As an article authored by Martin Henry in the Jamaica’s Gleaner points out, education reform failures have two main culprits, the government and the teachers.  The government because it is responsible for the implementation details such as planning for the necessary and relevant resources (materials, human capital training), and the teachers because they are the direct providers of the education to the students whose assessment results are the effectiveness measure of classroom teaching.

 Political leaders are uniquely responsible for student outcomes as they are atop the command chain of overseers.   The ministers in some countries have chosen to be ostriches.  Grasping desperately at the positive spin so they can continue to obfuscate, confusing their constituency that everything is OK, and in fact, improving spectacularly, based on selective statistics ..   Some mouth the right words but seem to have only a superficial grasp of the meanings and processes of which they speak. While I agree that students who achieve spectacular results (e.g. 20 subjects passed – all with distinctions) should be lauded and feted, this is not an excuse to hide the reality of the substantial numbers of students who are failing to graduate.  Downplaying standardized scores serves only the politician, definitely not the failing students or their parents.

Jamaica is a country which has recognized it has a problem and is proactively attempting to find a solution.  The Primary Exit Profile (PEP) program is designed to address the need for documentation of accomplishment of basic skills and widen the net of students who can show they have the required ability.  Unfortunately many students who now have nothing to show for their time in school, are being sabotaged by the resistance of the very people who will be directly implementing the new policy – the teachers..  “The implementation of the PEP element of the National Standards Curriculum is on track to fail,” Anderson said..  Most people tend to resist change because it entails moving out of their comfort zone to learn something new – teachers are no exception.

The Jamaican Minister of Education is absolutely right, and must stand his ground in the best interests of the child.  Inquiry-based learning should be the dominant teaching strategy from Pre-K through through to tertiary institutions.  This debate is eerily similar to the Common Core Standards debate in America which sparked the hysterical screams of “teaching to the test”   Surprise!  Yes, teachers must teach to the test to ensure that students know the core knowledge content required.  The test is the summative assessment of the content knowledge and skills-set that a student needs in order to have a minimum preparation for life after school.  It is the PROCESS (classroom delivery) that now becomes important once the content quality has been assured.


Reality Based Education

My championing of Jamaica’s new education initiatives designed to change the system’s status quo is based on an urgent need to change student outcomes.  The current system is not working for a majority of the children, and in extension, the society as a whole.   In addition I am impressed with the current minister’s understanding that assessment must be formative, diagnostic and summative – for every aspect of each program.  He does not plan to fail so he is planning for all contingencies.  By boldly implementing real programs, and subjecting each to the established steps for effective implementation he is showing a willingness to correctly effectuate change.  [Education, Youth and Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid, says the Ministry will be conducting a survey to ascertain schools’ readiness for the Primary Exit Profile’s (PEP) implementation in the 2018/19 academic year].  I am tired of hearing education officials emptily proselytizing with no actual work done on implementation planning.  


The Jamaican Education Ministry has seen the light – continuous assessment of a policy’s effectiveness is crucial to ensuring its success.  In addition to investing more resources in education for the 2018/19, the ministry is introducing access to Singapore Math resources for local teachers to address dismal math scores at all levels of assessment but especially at CSEC (Singapore is #1 on international tests).  They are actively recruiting teachers from Cuba, world renown for high quality education and excellence in the field of health, to teach sciences at the primary and secondary levels.  It is refreshing to hear ad hoc education bureaucrats from other islands critically assessing the reality status of their student outcomes and expressing a desire to explore solutions for reversing the current unappetizing data that expose the school system’s seamy under-belly.

Teachers, principals, curriculum creators and the education bureaucracy/industry, but especially teachers – the direct providers – have CHOICES.  They can decide how to align, pace and map the given curriculum.  They can choose the teaching strategy (e.g. universal by design, backwards design, Socratic, project-based, chalk and talk) all within an inquiry based framework that emphasizes critical and creative thinking.   Of course we must never forget that teaching should include and not neglect the emotional quotient (social and emotional development) for student academic success.

A Jamaica Gleaner article, Is the future of education learning by doing?, promotes experiential learning – learning by doing in class – replacing chalk-and-talk with inquiry, problem-solving and project-based learning.  Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, goes one step further by proposing the formation of “a national network of urban work colleges where students must work to go to classes.” He envisions a “reality-based education, where students use experiential and project-based learning practices to gain real-world experiences in higher-education.”  In real world language, he advocates that students be taught to solve problems in their community, rhetorically asking – What if your classroom becomes your life?

Juxtaposed with this is the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) response to criticism by businesses, about the lack of practical applications being taught to students, and its dominant adherence to theoretical offerings: Professor Beckles asserted that a balance is needed between theoretical and practical learning and warned of the danger if the university is now forced to lean towards being too practical..  It would behoove the university to research/review current debates at the tertiary level in America where traditional pedagogy is being questioned.  In a recent article, Francis Fukuyama questioned the validity of traditional public policy-making teachings in universities.  His complaint that “Most programs train students to become capable policy analysts, but with no understanding of how to implement those policies in the real world.” mirrors that voiced by businesses and is complimentary to the solution proposal by Michael Sorrell.


All for One and One for All – Regionalism versus Nationalism

Any political leader of vision will make school quality a high priority.  Political leadership makes use of its citizens’ reputation and build on the goodwill of influential friends/fans  JAMAICA: Marcus Garvey, Harry Belafonte, Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Grace Jones, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Patrick Ewing, Colin Powell;   BARBADOS: Rihanna, Alison Smith, Edward Braithwaite, Shonnele, Nick Nanton;  ANTIGUA and BARBUDA: world renown cricketers (Vivian Richards, Curtley Ambrose, Andy Roberts), Jamaica Kincaid;   and TRINIDAD and TOBAGO: Nicki Minaj, Stokely Carmichael, Lorraine Toussaint, Billy Ocean, Certified Sampson;  …  to highlight a few CARICOM members.  The more literacy and numeracy skilled citizens are, the better ambassadors they become, the more likely they are to be chosen via meritocracy in other countries.  They will have access to greater opportunities, promotions and innovative, entrepreneurial initiatives.  Successful heads of government are dependent on a talented cadre of cabinet ministers.  They are entrusted with the vision and are expected to produce the effective implementation of programs that work.  The country’s development, in large part, is determined by its pool of quality leadership  -at all levels and sectors (public and private).

Great political leaders always seek to expand the base of citizens that can contribute to the country’s assets.  Well educated citizens increase the welfare of the nation as a whole.  In a world of multilateralism, regionalism, and nationalism leaders who excel by choosing the right policies that increase human capital and market wealth, become winners.  Democracy and capitalism engenders a survival of the fittest philosophy.  Labour and business will make decisions based on self-interests, resulting in winners and losers.  Competition is a given in a capitalist society, creating economic push and pull that can destabilize the components of a regionalized, globalized world.  In the Caribbean, leaders of CARICOM countries have to decide whether to share (commonality) or exclude (nationalism).

Dr. Andrew Pienkos article (Caribbean labour migration: Minimizing losses and optimizing benefits) proposes that “In the Caribbean, the weak employment-generating capacity and current labour market conditions are among the factors that have pushed workers to migrate.”  CARICOM countries will lose their best and brightest if they don’t create conditions that encourage their citizens to stay.  Labour migration is changing the native population’s percentage of total population (e.g. Antigua and Barbuda native population is less than 50% of its populace).  The final declaration of the recent Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM is as follows:  “By August 1, 2018, all member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are to have in place procedures on the refusal of entry of CARICOM nationals travelling across the region.”  Will the future of labour migration within CARICOM countries ever be lateral with fair exchanges of skills-set?

Businesses have joined the intra-migration – following incentives, an educated workforce, a regulation friendly environment or just plain old safety and stability.  [ALORICA, aka NCO, a call center company, recently intra-CARICOM relocated;- affecting other economic components (bus drivers, food stalls, etc.); re-establish(ment) of a brewery in Antigua, having lost the Wadadli Brewery to St. Vincent; Ross University relocation]  CARICOM needs to actively oversee implementation of projects such as the Climate Smart, Blue Economy for the benefit of all members.

CXC should conduct a self-analysis and proffer solutions (not lamentations).  Test scores matter – they are the harbinger of the future – low achievement foreshadows economic decline.   UWI should stop justifying its status quo, and along with other tertiary institutions catering to CARICOM countries, understand that students are consumers who want leadership guidance in the course type and content needed for the knowledge workers of an emerging technological workforce.  Education institutions must seriously assess their contribution to enhancing the economic development in their constituent countries.  “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. “  Benjamin Franklin.

Change is a given but preparing correctly for those changes becomes the devil in the details.  Change demands participants’ embrace the challenges of adoptability and adaptability.  I will continue to write about the gathering storm and its many multifaceted connections, until there is real, measurable, irreversible change that facilitates comprehensive access to quality opportunities for succeeding generations.  My series of articles on the failing Caribbean education system and what can be done to reverse the alarming trend will continue.  I have discussed the importance of teacher quality, sustained relevant professional development, evidence based pedagogical strategies – proven to increase student outcomes, the importance of planning, and the necessity for effective implementation in the education system (assessment and feedback loops).

As Malcolm X noted, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”  CARICOM countries must create innovative incubators of new ideas (in constituent member countries) from which each other can learn.  They should learn effective planning and implementation from each other – not just mouth platitudes.  They cannot be risk averse, choosing to do nothing so they will escape the spotlight if the initiative does not meet expectations.  If we don’t fix our education system then we will reap the consequences of our neglect.  Scum versus cream – they both rise to the top.  Will we nurture education excellence or lose our society to the pathologies which breed corruption and despair due to extreme inequality.

The author is an educator who has worked in America as well as the Caribbean.  She specializes in teacher development –  pedagogical strategies and classroom management and can be reached at 268-732-6641



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