PERMANENT SECRETARY. DR. MARIA POTTER ON BEHALF OF
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, CULTURE, YOUTH AFFAIRS, FISHERIES AND AGRICULTURE
HONOURABLE NATALIO D. WHEATLEY
MONDAY, AUGUST 26, 2019
2019/2020 ACADEMIC SCHOOL YEAR
First, I must express sincere apologies on behalf of Minister, Dr. The Hon. Natalio Wheatley, who is extremely disheartened that he was unable to make it back to the Territory in time to address you this morning. However, he has asked me to ensure that I relay to you some of his plans for education as we begin the new academic year.
As Permanent Secretary and an educator myself, I am delighted to greet you all today and to wish you an exceptionally great 2019 -2020 school year. I wish you God’s blessings and strength for the year ahead. Educators are very special people. You are very important. Your true worth cannot be quantified and your contribution is really limitless as it continues to bear fruit well into the future. You are an important group and I am honoured to address you. Our world is constantly changing and in order to be relevant influencers of this territory’s future, there is a need to explore and pursue new knowledge and skills, constantly devising new approaches to learning.
Quality education is essential and cannot be achieved without quality teachers and education administrators at every level. Our system must provide the opportunities for our people to develop the skills necessary for economic sustainability. As you begin this new school year, you must prepare to meet new challenges in every aspect of your work. Challenges help to drive innovation and change, only if we are willing to challenge the status quo. Too often we miss opportunities and become stuck doing things the way we have always done them. Great things will not be achieved without constantly renewing our dedication and our efforts. Our job at the Ministry level is to enable you to empower students. While we may not be able to provide everything you would like, we are obligated to support you. We want you to take ownership of your own learning in the same way you want your students to own theirs. Be a leading learner. Model learning for your students and feel free to ask for help along the way.
The theme for this school year is “Engage; Encourage; Empower – Educate!” The theme encompasses all of us and the voice of each stakeholder should be heard. This year let us engage, encourage and empower the students, teachers, administrators, parents and the wider community. I look forward to hearing about the successful activities in each school that will be in line with engaging, encouraging and empowering all stakeholders for school improvement. Community and parental engagement are also key to transforming our schools and the wider community.
We have outlined at the ministry some policy directions for the year and while we have planned, we are cognizant of the fact that things may happen that may force us to make adjustments. Let me share with you some of the policy plans that should guide your planning at the school level. Key areas of focus are training and development for educators at all levels; improving the quality of teaching and learning; curriculum and assessment improvements; an education system review; and improving discipline and student engagement.
ADVISORY BOARD AND SPECIAL COMMITTEES
Very early in this year, the Minister will seek to put an Education Advisory Board in place to be made up of present and past educators as well as individuals to represent the business community, higher education, parent and the religious community. This group will advise the Minister on education matters and the growth and development of the education sector. We have been utilizing the special committees’ component in developing proposals to guide various projects and this we will continue to do.
Learning must take place in a disciplined environment and a clear structure is important for students. The Minister wishes to reiterate zero tolerance for indiscipline among students. A special committee was established, and an initial meeting was held. Some very good suggestions were tabled at the meeting that was categorized as immediate, short and long term. An action plan, inclusive of a timeline, will be developed to execute actions towards improving discipline in schools.
The Ministry will commission a review of the Student Code of Conduct 2006. Aspects to be included will be positive reinforcement for behaviors and further guidance for administrators in areas of school discipline. In addition, a Truancy Officer has now been assigned to the sister islands and will work with principals to facilitate school improvement policies in the area of discipline.
EDUCATION SYSTEM REVIEW
We have been addressing various aspects of the Education System in recent years; however, I have been told that the last full review was conducted in 2000 by a working group commissioned through UNESCO. This year OECS has made funding available to us to conduct a mid-year review of the education sector strategy 2012 – 2021. Following this, the Ministry will be seeking to have a full review of the entire education system with the help of UNESCO. In fact, the mid- year review by OECS, which has already begun, will serve as groundwork towards the full review of the system. Some of you will be called upon for committees and to give your input in the evaluation process. All of this is important as we move forward in our quest to develop the Territory as well as realise the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
The Minister was pleased to have attended all public-school graduations and some private school graduations and award ceremonies at the end of the last school year. Overall, students seemed to have performed well. Students met grade level requirements which have qualified them to move to the next grade level. Further, the regional examination results showed on average over 80% pass rate in CXC examinations. The CPEA had a high overall score of 92.6%. Of the 2019 cohort who sat CSEC examinations, there was a pass rate of 74.24%. CAPE exams had a 82.7% overall pass rate.
All efforts will be made to continue to improve student learning outcomes both locally and in the regional CXC examinations. The key to any good system is to be able to measure it by student performance, student readiness and to be able to bench mark it against other systems. This we do when students are able to show mastery of learning at the specified benchmarks and competence in the required skills. In the 2019- 2020 academic year, the Grade 9 key stage assessment will be added. Key stage assessments were implemented in 2014 and they serve to measure the Grade level competencies of students at Grades 2, 4, 6, and 9. It will measure across the board, grade level competence at another pivotal point at the education system.
Statistics indicate that our students continue to struggle in Mathematics and Language Arts. This is not unique to us, but we are not satisfied; so we therefore continue to seek out ways to improve. The literacy reading programme introduced during the last school year in Grades K – 2 will move up to Grade Three. The intention is to add a grade with every successive year until the programme has been infused into the entire system. Reading skills across the system are of major concern and every effort must be made to improve this. The Mathematics curriculum has been reviewed and a new working manual for teachers has been structured for use in this school year. Curriculum reviews are ongoing in General Science, the Social Sciences, Physical Education, Financial Services, Language and Reading. We will also expand the foreign language programme in our schools. The French programme that was started will now advance to include Grade 9 in this school year.
Discussions have been on-going but this school year more will be done to ensure a greater collaboration with culture and agriculture and fisheries. The Minister is passionate about these areas as they are needed to ensure our children are aware of the things that make us what we are as a territory.
Professional Development for educators continues to be a very important area and the Minister is keen on addressing the matter of teacher quality. Any teacher who is not performing at acceptable standards is doing our students a disservice. Teachers play a dynamic role in the educational system. It is said that good performance of students depends upon effective teaching. Effective teaching is a key responsibility of each and every teacher. The ministry will be working assiduously to get the training institute going again at the college that will train new teachers, facilitate on-going professional development and offer licensing for teachers.
Teacher quality is a great concern and it must be made clear that bad or incompetent teachers cannot continue in the system. The charge is being given to you to become responsible for your own professional development, becoming and remaining current in your subject areas and in this, your chosen profession. Teachers must continue to sharpen their skills and stay abreast with best practices in education. We cannot settle for less. Along with the coordinated ministry level sessions, each principal will also be expected to engage staff members in regular Professional Development sessions, updating them on current trends in education and addressing pedagogical weaknesses.
The appraisal and the hiring process for teachers will be reviewed this school year and where necessary amended to ensure we are getting quality teachers and quality teaching in our classrooms.
We have recently received the results for the second batch of principals and senior teachers in the National College of Educational Leadership (NCEL) programme. Let me express congratulations on behalf of the Minister to all those who have successfully completed the programme. As soon as possible, we wish to continue this level of training for principals and prospective administrators for our schools under our established education institute when it comes on stream.
REBUILDING/ INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF SCHOOLS
Qualified and competent teachers will not be able to carry out their tasks professionally without proper conditions that support their efforts. Some of our working conditions leave much to be desired and the Minister/Ministry is aware of this. As the school year progresses; we will be addressing more of these infrastructural concerns.
However, major renovation and rebuilding has taken place over the last two years on the Enis Adams Primary School, BFEC Secondary (Building One) and more recently the ‘L’ Shaped Building on the Elmore Stoutt High School campus. I am pleased to announce that all three sites will be ready for the start of school in a few weeks. Dedication and handing over ceremonies will be held at each site within the coming weeks.
For the remainder of 2019, infrastructural works will continue. Discussions and final decisions will take place on the feasibility of a junior secondary school at the Isabella Morris primary location and one on the eastern end of Tortola.
Consultancies will continue to finalise the best design for the remaining structures for the ESHS campus. We are also looking forward to starting the other buildings for the secondary school at BFEC, formalizing plans for building a new primary school for the primary section of BFEC at a new site as well as the building of the new Jost Van Dyke school. In all our efforts in this process, we want to build green, smart and for inclusion.
The Therapeutic classroom started two years ago at the Alexandrina Primary will now be housed at the Enis Adams Primary School in a specially designed space to accommodate the group. That is a step in the right direction for the system.
There will be some adjustments at the senior secondary level. Grade 12 students who have successfully completed six or more CSEC subjects including Math and English will have the opportunity to enroll at the HLSCC as a fulltime student. The Dual enrollment programme will continue.
Beginning this school year, Grade 10 students can qualify for the advanced placement programme and follow a two year track. Students will have to earn 30 credits each year for the same total 60 credits at the end of the two years. To qualify, these students must earn a B+ or above in all subjects by the first end of the first term in 10th grade.
Some adjustments will also be made as it relates to the payment of CSEC examinations. The ministry has been covering the cost of all CSEC exams written in the territory for the last 5 years. Effective this year, we intend to adjust that policy and revert to having students cover the cost for all exams.
Further, the opportunity to prepare for and write CAPE exams will now be done at the community college and not at the secondary level.
As you continue to participate in the Summer Institute training sessions throughout this week, please make use of the opportunities afforded you to develop yourselves professionally and participate fully. I am pleased to welcome Mrs Deidra Biss on behalf of the Minister and the Ministry in general who will facilitate the Critical Literacy workshops and Ms Jessica Waterman who will be leading on the Physical literacy aspect. Thank you for accepting to come and work with our teachers in two very important areas.
On behalf of the Minister, I wish to thank all Education Officers, Principals, Teachers and other education professionals as well as other staff for your hard work; for continuing to ensure that our students are set for success so that they can lead productive lives and make their contributions to the development of this Territory. The Minister will be hosting more meetings very shortly where all our plans for this new academic year will be discussed in greater detail.
I wish you a successful 2019/2020 academic school year, and may God continue to bless you and keep you. May His light continue to shine on you and this Territory.
Quality education always helps to ensure security, welfare and prosperity of a nation. Therefore, let us all keep education as the first priority of this developing territory.