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  • This blog is written by specialists from the Education Division of the Inter-American Development Bank. Its objective is to provide arguments and ideas that will spark debate about how to transform education in Latin America and the Caribbean. This blog is a call to action for the reader. An idea, a project, or a question can make a difference.

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    Las opiniones expresadas en este blog son las del autor y no necesariamente reflejan las opiniones del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, sus directivas, la Asamblea de Gobernadores o sus países miembros.

    The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Inter-American Development Bank, its Management, its Board of Executive Directors or its member Governments.

    Mass Producing Excellence in Education: Transforming Exceptions into the Rule

    By and - 22 Aug 2014

    * By Justine Stewart and Cynthia Hobbs

    Jamaica Mapamericas

    Imagine an assembly line, organized with all the essential inputs to produce a successful school. Now, imagine that only a handful of the schools are effective. How would you change the production process? This is the challenge that Jamaica’s Ministry of Education (MoE) faces: how to develop the proper support system to improve poorly performing schools. Though all of us can think of examples of fantastic teachers and school principals that are strong leaders, a country cannot survive on the excellence of only a few schools.

    According to Jamaica’s National Education Inspectorate (NEI), effective schools are those whose performance in the following eight areas is deemed satisfactory by professional school inspectors:

    1. Leadership and Management
    2. Teaching Support for Student Learning
    3. Students’ Performance in National or Regional Tests and Assessments
    4. Students’ Progress
    5. Students’ Personal and Social Development
    6. Human and Material Resources
    7. Curriculum and Enhancement Programmes
    8. Students’ Safety, Security, Health and Wellbeing

    In a recent School Effectiveness Study commissioned by the MoE through the IDB, 50% of primary and secondary schools in the sample had been classified by the NEI as effective. Of these effective schools, 70% were characterized by strong leadership. Yet one in three of the schools deemed ineffective also obtained a high score in leadership, demonstrating that strong leadership is not the only factor contributing to school effectiveness.

    So how can the ineffective schools become more effective?  In Jamaica, one main ingredient was present in all the effective schools. That secret ingredient was a School Improvement Plan (SIP), which, though mandated by the MoE, is not implemented in all schools. The four important components of the SIP that seem to contribute to school effectiveness are:

    1. Self-evaluation
    2. Collaboration of key stakeholders in the creation of a shared school vision
    3. Incorporation of the SIP into the routine of the school
    4. Continuous monitoring and evaluation

    Going beyond the SIP and the NEI classification, the School Effectiveness Study identified effectiveness-enhancing conditions as detailed in a nine factor model. The model includes eight enabling factors and a ninth factor, effective school leadership, which influences all other areas (see figure below).

    Cynthia Blog Graph

    Let’s take a moment to reflect.

    What is the good news? Although student learning levels are low in Jamaica, the results of the NEI show that one in three ineffective schools demonstrated strong leadership. This proves that they are successful in some areas critical to school success. The other good news is that schools can improve without significant budget increases. The factors most associated with school effectiveness do not require large financial investments. Areas such as ‘high level of parental and community involvement’, ‘frequent monitoring of learning and teaching’ and ‘collaboration and communication’ are all highly correlated with positive student outcomes. Strong school leaders who adeptly manage human resources, such as teachers, parents and community members, can produce positive change in their schools. For instance, teachers who collaborate on lesson planning and teaching strategies improve the quality of teaching and learning. Schools that engage their community benefit from additional support and reinforcement of principles taught in the classroom.

    In Jamaica, the recently established National Centre for Education Leadership will be applying some of these lessons learned to prepare current and incoming school principals and education officers. The challenge is a large one, but Jamaica has the tools to succeed. Through this training, the small Caribbean nation hopes to start to produce largely-effective schools.

    What key ingredients is your community in Latin America or the Caribbean using to make schools effective?

    * Justine Stewart is a Research Assistant working in the IDB’s Jamaica country office. 

    2 Responses to “Mass Producing Excellence in Education: Transforming Exceptions into the Rule”

    • Geminy :

      very well said Justine Stewart and Cynthia Hobbs. Thanks for sharing such a great post

    • Leon :

      Excellent Blog Cynthia:
      I think all those factors/ ingredients are very much spot on and if adhered to, will help generate the transformation and continued improvement we desire.
      My own contribution however, complementing those mentioned, is perhaps the introduction of a “student personal responsibility” ingredient.

      By this I mean that equal and simultaneous emphasis is to be placed on challenging students to take personal responsibility for their education. I do not know whether this is already part of one of the mentioned factors/ ingredients (perhaps the parents are charged with communicating this), but coming from a family where both parents are/ were teachers with a combined 70+ years in the classroom, and a sibling who has also been teaching for several years, and having been through the system myself, I can attest that unless and except the student applies his mind to what is taught, then even in a traditional high school like the one I attended, the quality of the teaching will not help.
      My brother now teaches at a high school where students are very distracted and will engage in all kinds of untoward behavior even during lessons in class, including gross sexual misconduct. Others have no interest at all in what is being taught, preferring instead to focus on fads and entertainment and enjoying the company of friends before and after school. Another set of students believe education is irrelevant because all around them are examples of uneducated persons who have, through illegitimate means (lottery scamming for eg.), realized the ends education is meant to propel one toward. Perhaps effective teaching also involves counselling and advisories on avoiding these ills, but what amount of time then is to be dedicated to the actual lesson?

      I have also learnt of the introduction of policies that in my view effectively communicate to students that they have no role to play in their academic success, and that the benefits of education are “owed” to them rather than something they must “strive” toward. These include;
      (1) students should be allowed to walk into class at whatever time they feel like it;
      (2) students should not be dismissed from classes for disruptive behaviour (and therefore should be and are allowed to prevent others from learning);
      (3) students should be allowed to enter school grounds even when deliberately late (i.e.- after standing at the school gate and wasting the entire morning from 7 to 9 or 10A.M.) …
      and I could go on.

      These policies, if they do exist in our schools, will continue in my view, especially in already underperforming schools, to present themselves as immutable impediments to the desired transformation, and will stifle the leadership and teaching initiatives toward same. Where these conditions prevail, students are induced into a mindset that others are primarily responsible for their own academic success, and that mentality potentially germinates and ultimately blossoms into the sense of entitlement which often characterizes some who become burdens to the state’s welfare mechanisms and encumbrances to instead of drivers of the cause for sustainable development. Discipline in terms of respect for superiors and colleagues, punctuality and valuable personal contribution, is an indispensable ingredient for personal development, educational advancement, social mobility and societal homogeneity by extension.
      Students, especially at the high school level, should be exposed to the present reality of a contracting and increasingly vulnerable global economy and be made to recognize that above all, they should seize their educational opportunity with both hands – with their teeth even.


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