Education Experts examine transforming Caribbean education at UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum

by July 30, 2022

On Thursday, July 21, The University of the West Indies (The UWI) in collaboration with the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning (CCEP) hosted a Vice-Chancellor’s Forum to discuss the Orlando Patterson Commission Report. The Report which presents a comprehensive review and assessment of Jamaica’s education system, its structure, operation, and processes was examined by regional education experts during two-hour hybrid event which aired live on UWItv.

The Forum was chaired and moderated by Reverend Ronald Thwaites, former Minister of Education in Jamaica. In his opening remarks, he highlighted the significance of the event stating, “There is no doubt that our educational systems need continuous review…and here in Jamaica, needs particular attention, having regard to the ravages of the pandemic and for systemic inadequacies that have been palpable and undeniable. We believe that the reverberations of the Patterson analysis and recommendations are relevant to the wider Caribbean.”

Ambassador Richard Bernal, Chair of the Advisory Board of the CCEP, delivered welcome remarks, during which he outlined three objectives of the discussions: “First, explore the implications of the findings and recommendations of the Orlando Patterson Commission Report for the education system in Jamaica; secondly, to identify the elements of the report which have applicability across the Caribbean, and thirdly examine the findings in the context of education transformation strategies in jurisdictions outside of the Caribbean.”

Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning at The UWI, Dr. Canute Thompson, together with Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Education at the University’s Mona Campus, Professor Silvia Kouwenberg delivered feature presentations. The panel discussion and question and answer segment that followed included Senior Education Specialist, Caribbean Development Bank, Dr. Martin Baptiste; Programme Manager, Human Resource Development, CARICOM, Dr. Laurette Bristol; Independent Educational Consultant, Mr. Robert Gregory; Professor of Educational Leadership and Social Justice, Institute for Educational and Social Equity, Professor Paul Miller; Education Specialist, Old Harbour Bay Primary School, Ms. Deatricia Ming and Lecturer in Language, Online Learning Specialist and 2023 – 2026 Head, Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, Dr. Schontal Moore.

Professor Silvia Kouwenberg focused her contribution on the ineffectiveness of Jamaica’s two-tiered education system, the way it continues to perpetuate the basis for an unfair and unjust society and the need for a wider and more accessible scope of language to be incorporated in schools. In closing she said, “Historically, education was never intended to be a pathway to equality. As long as schools operate with school curricula, teacher training models and sociocultural expectations created for and by English-speaking elites, no amount of reform will change that.”

Dr Canute Thompson presented a comparison between Jamaica and other countries and regions of the world, highlighting their levels of educational success, innovation and murder. Dr Thompson revealed direct correlations among them, explaining that these findings show, “…a strong relationship between the rate of participation in tertiary education and a country’s innovation index as well as the country’s quality of social life measured among other things by the murder rate.” He concluded saying, “The Patterson Report’s identification of funding for tertiary education as an important driver of transformation is on point and the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning embraces this particular recommendation.”

Dr Schontal Moore’s presentation explored the recent inclusion of online and blending learning opportunities at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the competence of the levels of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) at the level of learners, educators and administrators. In one of her final points she expressed that she “did not see enough attention being given within the document (Report) to, differently abled students, and how online teaching and learning or just technology in general can actually promote access and equity for these differently abled students. Yes, attention was given to the economically marginalised students but not those who are differently abled” she stated.

Mr Robert Gregory spoke to Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). He highlighted that only 30% of fifth form students across the region have attained five passes at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) level, inclusive of Mathematics and English Language Arts. This, he credits to the lack of inclusion of TVET across the regions’ education systems. Among other suggestions, he proposed focusing on UNESCO’s four pillars of learning, “Learning to learn, learning to do, learning to work with others and learning to be.” He continued, “These pillars encompass all three domains of human learning: cognitive, psychomotor and affective learning.”

In her analysis of the Orlando Patterson Commission Report, Ms Deatricia Ming expressed concern with the lack of depth and scope it presented, particularly as it pertains to the primary schools’ level. She shared, “As it relates to the primary level, the issues that we face are numerous. We have issues such as parent involvement, we lack specialist teachers, we lack resources and the quality teachers, which all contribute to the bigger issue of student performance.” She cautioned also, the need for resources related to online learning. “…We are at the online age, we are doing online learning and we need online resources” she said, “But let’s not forget we need other resources. too. Because if we have high quality teachers with a beautifully written curriculum, but we lack the resources, then teaching and learning would not be efficient.”

Dr Martin Baptiste stressed the importance of holding leaders accountable in the division and utilisation of resources in ensuring the achievement of set goals, transforming professional development into professional practice and emphasising that the school (as opposed to the institution) should be at the centre of transforming learning and education. He noted, “We can, by focusing on accountabilities and focusing on professional practice, devise the right structures and greatest student results from what we are now experiencing.”

Dr Laurette Bristol shared a wider regional perspective and gave guiding words to practitioners across the education industry, “We can do better to ensure that we equip our youth for a future of work that they cannot predict, and for which they may be required to create. Therefore, we recognise that within education, there should be shifts in pedagogic styles and simpler changes in curriculum to respond to that future design.”

Professor Paul Miller, outlined in his presentation, the need for clear purpose and direction by looking at leading nations in education in Southeast Asia. “It’s also important as well, colleagues, that we think about building a culture of empowering relationships…So wherever Jamaicans are, they should be able to say, ‘well, we have this transformation project going on and this is my role’. Parents need to understand their role. The businesses, a corner shop on the street, need to understand their role. The big supermarkets need to understand. The teachers need to understand. The education officers, and so on and so forth. So everybody’s in that culture becomes part of the discourse on the street and in homes and the bars and in the church and in the city and it becomes a culture across the country.”

The recorded broadcast of The UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum, Examining the Patterson Commission Report: Lessons for transforming education in Jamaica and the Caribbean can be viewed via UWItv’s Facebook page.