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Showing posts from January, 2014

Schools feeding prisons?

There are several types of schools serving the secondary school aged population. There are “traditional” high schools in which the Ministry of Education (MOE) places the “brightest” students. There are “non-traditional/upgraded” high schools, formerly referred to as “Secondary” schools. There are “Technical” schools which prepare students to enter occupations in technical fields. And, there are a number of “vocational schools”. The MOE distributes the “other” students among these schools.

The “non-traditional/upgraded” high schools have been in the news recently, not for their accomplishments, which are many but for less flattering reasons. Before, we look at the cause of their perceived notoriety, let us just take a look at the structure of a “typical” “non-traditional/upgraded” high school in relation to how the school allocates students to classes. The school places students in classes based on test scores, often the scores from the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). For example, th…

Effective communication (speaking): building bridges to understanding (Part 4)

Most of us engage in speaking whether verbally or by sign language. And most of us speak more in informal settings rather than in formal ones. Formal settings have rules. The classroom is a formal setting which has rules which many students see as constraining. While a number of these rules are unwritten, students are still aware of them. For example, there is the expectation that students will converse with the teacher, their peers not so much, in the Standard Language. So while students may have much to say to their peers inside and outside of the classroom, they may not have much to say to teachers who are seen as authority figures and the enforcers of rules.
In the Jamaican classroom, teachers expect that students will respond to questions when they ask them. However, many students remain quiet in classes. In addition to students seeing the setting of the classroom as being formal, students have a number of other reasons for being silent in the classroom. Some students may believe…

Effective communication (writing): building bridges to understanding (Part 3)

Writing is one of the main requirements of students in the education system. Teachers require that their students write compositions/essays, responses to questions among other writing tasks. They are asking students to communicate ideas through writing. Teachers then give students grades based on how “well” they communicate their ideas on a given topic/issue/assignment. This grade is a measure of the students’ competence on this given topic/issue/assignment. However, many students find it difficult to communicate their ideas through writing.

From my experience as a teacher, I have realised that many students are reluctant to do any extended piece of writing. And I have determined a number of reasons for this reluctance.
One of these reasons is that many students do not have the content or the creativity to accomplish the writings tasks which teachers assign them. That is, they lack the life experiences which they can get through reading, listening to “experts” as they share their knowl…

"The world is a book..."

Saint Augustine is credited with saying, "the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page". When we think about this saying, we may think about literal travel from one place to another, learning about different cultures. This may have been his intent, maybe not.

Here, though, I am inviting you to vicariously travel the world of education with me by reading what others have said, and are saying, about the issues in education in their spaces.

If we confine our interest in issues in education only to our location, we will only be reading one page of the book on issues in education from which we may draw inspiration in our quest to understand and improve our systems. If we explore as much of the education world as possible, we will be reading many pages of this never ending book on issues in  education across spaces which make up this word of education. This may provide us with much inspiration from which to draw in our attempts to create improvements in our …

Effective communication (reading): building bridges to understanding (Part 2)

We all know the adage, “reading maketh a man” or [woman]. Many of us have never stopped to figure out what this adage really means. But, some of us assume that if we are able to read we will possess knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge here means information, while wisdom is our ability to act on the knowledge which we possess. That is, to manipulate it for our ends.

Reading is an important part of communication. There is much information which is hidden in books and in other media. But many of us do not bother to seek it out. We are content with what we already know. Or, we say that the written or other texts are of not much use to us since “life” is a great teacher, which it is. But, the perspectives of others from all fields of knowledge which have been published in books and in other media have, for a long time, been shaping/impacting the way we see and interact with our world. We owe it to ourselves to acquaint ourselves with some of these perspectives.
When we read we must realise that…

Effective communication (listening): building bridges to understanding (Part 1)

As we experience life, our minds are constantly working. We think about our experiences. They stir emotional and/cognitive responses as we either consciously or unconsciously process them. We process our experiences by critically thinking about them. After we critically think about our experiences, we want to share them as we have experienced them or we want to share our impressions of these experiences with others. In sharing our experiences we communicate.

Communication is an activity which involves a process. This activity should lead to understanding. That is, we who engage in this activity should develop insights into the goals, motivation, biases – that is, an appreciation of the whole person with whom we communicate. This is an understanding that should guide our interactions with each other.
As educators, part of our jobs – possibly the most important part – is to help students to develop the art of effective communication. We realise that if students are to develop this art w…

What makes you beautiful?

Is it something special about your features – the shape of your face, the slant of your eyes, the size of your lips and ears, the texture of your hair, the colour of your skin, your race? Is it your build – being petite rather than being plus sized or vice versa; being tall rather than being short or vice versa; having long legs rather than short ones? Is it the way you dress? Is it your personality? Is it affirmation from others? Is it your resemblance to somebody who is famous? Is it “looking good”?

We may answer affirmatively or negatively to any or a number of the above questions. We learn our concept of what is beautiful from our experiences throughout our lives.
Today, in Jamaica, possibly elsewhere, some men and women are bleaching their bodies because they want to be “beautiful”, to have a “brighter” complexion; to become “prettier” and so on and so on. See, The skin Bleaching Phenomenon which was aired on Television Jamaica on the 19th of June 2013 at (http://www.televisionjama…

Critical thinking (Part 3)

A. Binker, K. Jensen and H. Kreklau, and R. Paul, in their work, Critical thinking handbook: A guide for remodeling lesson plans in language arts, social studies and science (1990) also highlighted the cognitive dimension of critical thinking.

Cognition according to the Encarta English Dictionary is the “ability to acquire use of reasoning, intuition or perception” and it is also “knowledge acquired through reasoning, intuition or perception”. Cognition as defined by this dictionary is not only our ability to acquire knowledge but it is also the knowledge that we acquire. Cognition is thinking.
The cognitive dimension of critical thinking involves the use of a number of strategies. From the list of strategies provided by R. Paul, A. Binker, K. Jensen and H. Kreklau, in their work, I have extracted a number of words and phrases which we often see in assignments we get as students or we use them in assignments that we give to our students. But these words and phrases also …

Critical Thinking (Part 2)

What does critically thinking involve? Though many other scholars have provided us with some insight on critical thinking, I will, very briefly, engage with the work of R. Paul, A. Binker, K. Jensen and H. Kreklau. In their work, Critical thinking handbook: A guide for remodeling lesson plans in language arts, social studies and science (1990), they have developed a list of thirty-five dimensions of critical thought. (See a summary at

These writers conclude from their study that critical thinking involves affective and cognitive strategies. These strategies are useful, I believe, in helping us to strengthen our capacity to think critically. I will cursorily examine the affective dimension of critical thinking as presented by these scholars in this article. Affective strategies refer to the approaches which we may use to understand and keep in focus the emotional dimension of our thinking.

If we allow our emotions t…

Critical Thinking (Part 1)

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What is critical thinking? Let us “unpack” the meaning of this phrase by examining each word in turn. A dictionary will provide us with a number of synonyms for the word “critical”. Some of these synonyms are “significant”, “important”, “key”, “vital”, “essential” and “crucial”. These are words loaded with meaning. But what we can take from these synonyms is that if something is “critical" it demands attention.

What is thinking? I will say it is a response to the stimulation of our senses. We see, we hear, we smell, we taste, and we touch “things”, not necessarily at the same time. When our senses are stimulated, impressions are left with us. These impressions are the thoughts that continuously flit through our minds. And, in engaging with these thoughts, we are in the process of thinking.
How do we engage with our thoughts? Some of our thoughts are random. They pass through our minds and then we dismiss them. Other thoughts are tenacious. They demand at…

Challenges in the education system

The education system faces many challenges. However, there are, in my opinion, three pressing ones which must be addressed in order to restore some balance in the system.

The first challenge which the system, as a whole, must take steps to begin to address is the poor performance of the just over fifty percent of students who are floundering in the education system. It is no secret that the education system has produced much talent, talent which can rival any found regionally or internationally. One expert on the education system believes that the country produces more talent than it can absorb. As a result, there is the constant stream of skilled labour from Jamaica to other countries where these skilled workers perceive work opportunities exist. However, the importance of education to development has been touted by multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). They cite developed countries as examples of the "truth" of the educat…

Are principals of schools administrators, managers or leaders? Part 2

Stephen P. Robbins and David A. De Cenzo in their text, Fundamentals of Management... (1998) provide one definition of leaders as “people who are able to influence others and who possess managerial authority” (p. 389).

Leadership, then, may be defined as an ability possessed by these leaders or, as some may say, a strategy used by these leaders, to guide those whom they lead towards achieving the goals of the organisation of which they have responsibility. Leadership involves a process and it requires that those who are leaders possess specific skills and qualities such as the ability to communicate effectively; energy because jobs now-a-days require continuing innovation on the part of leaders; initiative because gone are the days, if they ever existed, when a senior authority figure provided subordinates with step by step instructions to get the job done; willingness to accept responsibility because the environment in which organisations now operate is demanding new standards of accou…

New year resolutions for stakeholders of education systems

Every New Year brings a set of challenges, some new, some carried over from the old year. And every New Year we make resolutions, some personal, some career related, that we hope we will fulfill in the year. This year, I am suggesting a number of resolutions for stakeholders in the education system.

Workers in the Ministry of Education

To be more responsive to the needs of clients than they were last year. For example, respond to queries in a timely fashionImprove the channels of communication between the Ministry and the schoolsEnsure transparency in decision making as regards policy implementationTry to really understand the nature of their jobs and the interrelationship of their jobs with other jobsResearch the issues that come up for decision and think before they speak
Boards of Management
Learn about job; learn about the education system; read and try to understand the Code of Education and its provisionHold principals accountableHa…