Despite some improvement in the regrading of our schools, their rankings essentially have not changed over the years. School rankings are based on the performance of students in the grade 11 cohort who obtain five or more subjects, including Mathematics and English Language in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examinations. Several standout institutions remain among the top-10 in the country.
The rankings of the nation’s schools have become an annual feature of the educational landscape and provide much food for thought for many, not only in support for the various schools but also as a way to drive policies to make our education system more inclusive. The vision we must all share should be to improve those which are poorly managed and underperforming.
Over the years, it has been clear that such schools have become permanent fixtures at the lower tier. Students enter and leave these educational facilities at regular intervals, many without learning or any proper certification. It can be argued that a major reason is that some educators and policymakers are not interested in ending the persistent disparities in educational achievement between the various sub-populations in the education system. As a society, we need to grab the bull by the horns and improve those institutions that have been perennially struggling, in order to make a considerable difference to student outcomes.
The transformational leadership theory has its origins in James McGregor Burns’ 1978 publication in which he analyzed the ability of some leaders to engage with staff in ways that inspired them to new levels of energy, commitment and moral purpose. Sadly, these leadership qualities are lacking in the management of several underperforming schools across the country. We have repeatedly bemoaned the fact that we have an archaic school system that does not have clear teaching and learning objectives and a type of leadership in the school system that is arrogant and based on domination and intimidation, and not on inspiration or cooperation.
The positioning of schools, whether at the top or the least-ranked is grounded in the quality of the leadership provided by the government to manage the schools. This type of high-handed leadership must be held accountable for the underperformance of schools and poor student outcomes. This type of behaviour is parallel to those in previous governments who presided over a crumbling educational system.
A recent government report on public schools in the country showed that leadership and management were unsatisfactory in a majority of the underperforming schools. Students in schools with superior leadership and management tend to perform significantly better, thus much work is required in order to bring all schools on as a level playing field as is humanly possible.
Children whose parents are wealthy, for the most part end up in the high performance schools, and the poor ones invariably are relegated to the underperforming schools. Perhaps this is one reason why so many of our students are failing and school dropout rates are at disconcerting levels.
In order for students to excel, society must find ways to rid the education system of the schools that are not up to today’s demands. Obviously, all stakeholders need to redouble their efforts and work assiduously to improve those that can be elevated.
We cannot afford to continue playing a game of Russian roulette with the future of our children by endorsing a two-tier educational system; one for the rich and powerful and the other for the poor. We need proactive and transformational leaders to ensure that effective teaching and learning take place in all schools. In the words of the late President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.
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