THE EDITOR, Madam:
Too often Ministry of Education (MOE) policies seem to be formulated on anecdotal evidence rather than data, a habit that has had a deleterious impact on education. Take, for example, the free tuition policy.
The story goes that greedy principals (since all good stories need bad guys) denied children their right to an education because they couldn’t afford school fees. As a result, the government – the hero – would abolish the fees. This story quickly gained ground and the public was rightly infuriated at the thought of children being forced out of school. However, the exact number of principals guilty of this crime and the number of students expelled from the schools have not been revealed. The public had no idea of the real extent of this problem. Also, no studies have been done to determine the number of households that really could not afford to pay school fees. Even without this essential information, the no-tuition policy was adopted and many of our top schools suffered.
In the absence of essential data, the Ministry of Education also finds itself unable to develop a responsive policy. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association has sounded the alarm over the negative impact of teacher migration on the system. The MOE assured the public there was absolutely no need to panic but did not provide any specific data to back up that claim. Yes, people apply for teaching positions every year, but how many of them are trained or suitably qualified teachers in the particular subject they wish to teach? Principals have expressed concern about their inability to recruit teachers for particular subjects, the most worrying being mathematics. Their fears cannot simply be brushed aside.
It is important that when the Department of Education responds to questions about education issues, it backs up its statements with accurate data. Technology has made data collection easier and MOE needs to be proactive in gathering relevant information. Certainly, Ms. Fayval Williams, a former information systems analyst, agrees with this approach, but it must be embedded in the culture of the MOE. When this happens, it will inspire greater confidence in its leadership and generate more focused, needs-based policies.