Caribbean News Service (CNS)
By Desmond Brown
ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Mar 22 2016, CNS – St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said quality teaching and quality leadership is lacking in the region’s education system and the time has come for drastic action to fix this problem, especially at the primary level.
Delivering the Antigua State College-organised 12th Dr. Alister Francis Memorial Lecture at the University of the West Indies (UWI) open campus here Monday night, Gonsalves noted that if our civilisation is to be more fortified we have to put emphasis on quality teaching and quality leadership in the schools.
“I have never been able to understand how primary school teachers can have a child for seven years…a normal child…who is not afflicted by any intrinsic learning disabilities of one kind or another…but when that child finishes seven years of primary education that, that child cannot read or write our count with a level of proficiency to allow them to pursue secondary education without remedial work,” Gonsalves said.
“Nobody has yet been able to explain that to me with any degree of honesty. I’m talking about many persons in the teaching profession.”
The Vincentian leader related a story about two schools in a farming village, just across from each other in his country, both on the same social status; pointing out that the children at one school got more than 80 percent passes while those from the other got just over 50 percent.
“Two or three of the teachers who are responsible for these classes tell me it wasn’t a good crop. So I said you are reducing students now to ground nuts and yam and tanya? Because the research shows that once you have a minimum level of adequacy in relation to basic supports – parenting, facilities in the school and the like – that the single most important determinants in respect of students’ outcomes are the issues connected to quality teaching and quality school leadership,” the Prime Minister said.
“Now many teachers don’t accept that and several of the teachers’ unions don’t accept that but if you have in a seven year period, if you are unfortunate to meet two and God forbid three poor teachers, when you reach the level to go and write your Common Entrance or to get assessed on the Caribbean Primary Exist Assessment you are two or three years behind.
“And we have to find a way, not in any divisive manner, but a conversation has to start as a matter of urgency with all the stakeholders to see those teachers who are assessed not to be quality teachers, how we can retool them. And if they are not interested in retooling and if they are failing to take appropriately the retooling, arrangements should be made to have them exit the teaching profession and do some other thing,” Gonsalves added, to loud applause from the audience which included Governor General Dr. Sir Rodney Williams, members of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Gaston Browne and Opposition Leader Baldwin Spencer.
He said he is aware that when he speaks like this that people say he is trespassing on an issue which is a political hot potato, but noted “I prefer to offend bad teachers than to damage students”.
Dr. Gonsalves also noted that where there are lots of good teachers, a minority of bad ones adversely affect the work of those who are good.
“So I’m not making an anti-teachers point. In fact the way in which I’m speaking you will see that my first love is teaching,” said Gonsalves who taught for a year at a secondary school before he went off to the UWI where he obtained a B.Sc. (Econ) and M.Sc. (Govt.) degrees.
Gonsalves also attended the University of Manchester (England) and secured his Ph.D. in Government and taught for more than six years at universities in the region and elsewhere before entering politics.
Addressing his political counterparts in the region on the issue, Gonsalves said some “are afraid to bell the cat” because they believe that some teachers who are not good teachers may want to get others to join with them to close down the schools in protest.
“I’m not making a case against teachers, let me emphasise that. I’m making a case for quality teaching and I’m not making a case to get rid of poor teachers, I’m making a case for retooling those poor teachers; but if they are not prepared to take the retooling; if they refuse to or do not measure up in the retooling it is in their interest and in the students’ interest, in the community’s interest, in the civilisation’s interest for them to go into another form of occupation,” he said.
“I make that point in relation to the primary schools (but) you can make that point in relation to the secondary schools and any other institution.”
While noting that returns on investment in education take a long time to be realised in any civilisation, Gonsalves said that An educated nation has very little poverty and its material challenges are considerably less than an uneducated or poorly educated nation.
“Education is the surest and safest way out of poverty. Education and training facilitates innovation and creativity. Education lifts the social, economic and cultural and aesthetic way of life. Education engenders peace, social order, freedom, equality, democracy and political stability,” he said.
“And education is the veritable oxygen which contains and refreshes a civilisation’s standards, values and beliefs.
“There are several matters which remain to be addressed – a series of crosscutting issues; among them the placement of critical thinking at core of the syllabus; student and other support services; ICT and education; parenting and education,” he noted
The Prime Minister also reminded the audience that a country’s poverty reduction programme goes hand in hand with its education system.