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MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH EDUCATION: PURPOSE, POLICY & PRACTICE

Feature Address to the UWI Biennial Conference on Education

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MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH EDUCATION: PURPOSE, POLICY & PRACTICE

  1. 1. MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH EDUCATION: PURPOSE, POLICY & PRACTICE  Feature Address to the  UWI Biennial  Conference on  Education Dr. Didacus Jules CXC Registrar & CEO Jamaica, June 2011
  2. 2. Page | 1 MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH EDUCATION: PURPOSE, POLICY & PRACTICE AN EXTREME REALITY CHECK So we are here to have a conversation about how we make a difference through education and we must necessarily interrogate issues of purpose, policy and practice. For me this ought to be a journey of thought and conscience leading to a renewed sense of urgency about why we do what we do, the principles governing our actions and the things that we must do. Often we are only jolted from the comfort of our complacency when a more startling wake up call or a juxtaposition of extreme possibilities opens up a different window of perception on our reality. Here is a CNN news item of June 1st 2011: A man drowns while rescuers stand by hamstrung by policy. A worst possible case scenario framed as callously insensitive and illogical because of the senseless
  3. 3. Page | 2 loss of a human life. But it encapsulates in an extreme nutshell what happens in practice when policy loses a sense of purpose. There are many threads that need to be picked up here. First responders prevented by a policy which says that they should not go into the water; budget cuts which remove the capability of the units to effectively respond; the absolute loss of human sensibility, the abandonment of accountability and the emasculation of any individual sense of responsibility or initiative. And the fundamental questions we - policy makers and influencers and educators - must ask ourselves: are we spectators on the educational shore viewing the loss of lives and futures? And if so, how many more must die? UNDERSTANDING POLICY Policy is a very frequently used word in educational discourse in the Caribbean today but an analysis of its usage reveals many different meanings. Hogwood and Gunn (1984) have codified these multiple meanings. Sometimes we speak of policy as an expression of general purpose or a desired state of affairs; sometimes we reference it as specific proposals; occasionally we mean refer to it as formal authorization of a governmental direction and we also categorize it as a program.
  4. 4. Page | 3 Notwithstanding these variations, we have a strong intuitive understanding that educational policy generally references the expressed principles, parameters and strategic direction that govern the conduct of education. Policy can be formally expressed through various channels of declaration – in speeches, in parliamentary or policy position papers, in strategy and planning documents, in budgetary instruments. Policy can also be informally implied through actions undertaken in response to situations or initiatives which emerge in an evolutionary search for answers or quietly expressed through actions taken below the public radar. According to Brinkerhoff and Cosby (2002) our understanding and practice of policy has emerged through 3 waves of evolution: 1. First generation policy analysis which largely relied on economic models and asserted that the fundamental difference made by education was in the preparation of human capital. Bowles & Gintis marked the high point in the deconstruction of this paradigm. 2. Second generation analysis which embraced institutional economics and political economy and the interplay between state, market and civil society. 3. The third generation assimilated the lessons
  5. 5. Page | 4 of the 1990s and posited policy reform as a dynamic process involving a complex interplay between macro-economic, sectoral and governance reforms with outcomes that can only be imperfectly predicted or controlled. Consistent with this conceptual evolution, our own understanding of policy in the Caribbean has also moved from a public perception of it as a highly technical matter under the purview of experts to an appreciation of the importance and impact of policy in framing the mandate, capabilities, and strategic outcomes in many specific arenas of our daily lives. The sphere of education is one of those areas in which public policy impacts almost every household and in which the dynamic between interest groupings and stakeholders is most complex and varied. This is best expressed in the popular slogan that “education is everybody’s business”. As democratic practice becomes more rooted in any society, the obligations of accountability increase and the modalities for public engagement in policy discourse and formulation also become more varied and institutionalized. In many respects the directional strength of policy is related to the strength and power of the state itself. In weak or failed states, policy of any kind is characterized by arbitrary fiat (unconnected to any national developmental agenda), ineffective or non-existent enforcement capability, and feeble implementation mechanisms. In strong states, policy is highly ideological (meaning strongly expressive of the organizing principles that it seeks to uphold
  6. 6. Page | 5 and entrench) and closely articulated with the national developmental agenda; there are strong (usually legislative or regulatory) vehicles of enforcement and well defined mechanisms of implementation. The degree of implantation of democratic tradition and practice in a strong state will determine the extent to which citizens are able to inflect public policy in any sphere. Just last month we were able to engage here in Jamaica with the Finns on their experience in education and it is interesting to note that a distinguishing feature of their success in education is the paramountcy of citizenship/parental rights and responsibilities. A SENSE OF PURPOSE Purpose is defined as a raison d’etre; an intended outcome or desired result; determination and resourcefulness. I have repeatedly argued in recent times for a fundamental rethinking of education in our contemporary Caribbean. We are at a decisive historical crossroad facing unprecedented challenges. We stand at the intersection where the broad vista of globalization crosses with the open road of technological possibility but the perception of the path is complicated by the convolutions of crisis and contraction and our societal resolve is weakened by the ravages of drugs, and the erosion of family and community.
  7. 7. Page | 6 Rethinking education necessarily involves the definition of purpose. What is the purpose of education in this historical epoch in the face of contemporary challenges in our Caribbean? Definition of purpose will provide a sense of direction. In many respects education policy in our region is still stuck in the second generation paradigm which sees education in a neo-liberal light – that fundamentally asserts its connection to economy and production and sees its purpose as being largely about the preparation for work. Even a cursory examination of international trends reveals that while the role of education in providing the human resource requirements for economic growth is accepted logic, there is increasing recognition of the imperative of affective dimension. An array of social problems – from intolerance to drug abuse to spiraling criminality to the meltdown of social values – have punctuated the importance of education in shaping people. Education is not only about producing workers and developing capacity for the economy. It is equally about the cultivation of the human spirit; about the nurturing of sensibilities; about local consciousness with global transcendence. This is not only a Caribbean imperative as the calls for this reconceptualization are becoming more vociferous. Konidari 2011 puts it succinctly thus: “What we need is a total re-conception and re-construction of the educational reality. It is evident that a system that has been consciously conceived in order to satisfy
  8. 8. Page | 7 precise needs and goals can no longer serve the quality model that education needs to survive. It is also evident that a society that denies its political role over its economic growth cannot hope for quality education or any substantial reform. It is also evident that education results reflect larger problems and inequalities in societies; schools cannot overcome all the inequities and problems around them” In this business, purpose is vital because omission is as impactful as commission. It is not simply about what we do but equally importantly about what we fail to do. (I recall with some interest that in my Catholic school socialization, we were taught in the rite of confession to seek remission of sins – “for what we have done and what we have failed to do”). Without a clear sense of purpose we run the danger of being driven by the immediacy of the problems which beset us rather than a strategic formulation of where we want to be. It’s the old saying that sometimes when you are up to your neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget that your original intention was to drain the swamp. Inaction on problems can arise either from the fact that their true dimension is not fully apprehended at the time or from the fact that they just don’t seem important enough to address in the face of competing priorities. And lost in the maelstrom of competing problems, these omissions can carry lethal future consequences.
  9. 9. Page | 8 The situation in early childhood stimulation for the 0-3 cohort and early childhood development for the 3-5 age group is a perfect example. The latest figures reveal that no more than 40% of the 0-5 age cohort enjoys access to Early Childhood development. There is little sense of urgency about this crisis because in the region we have come to accept the false premise that early childhood education does not matter as much. And we continue in this fallacy despite the increasingly voluminous evidence that early years stimulation matters a great deal and that it constitutes the most decisive period of brain development and cognitive capacity. It will be a grave sin of omission to continue to ignore the deficit in ECD on the excuse of limited resources. Failure to act at that level is creating handicaps for performance at later levels; through our failure to provide access 60% of our children are starting the first leg of the relay of life handicapped. Ever wonder why the most ambitious effort in Early Childhood in the United States was called Headstart? In fact, the challenges and limitations that confront us is all the more reason for the elaboration of unambiguous policy. The harder the road and the more perilous the terrain, the greater the need for a road map that delineates our objective and our direction so that all can be guided, priorities can be maintained and resources optimized. PRACTICE – WALKING THE POLICY TALK
  10. 10. Page | 9 Let us turn to the issue of practice. Practice is the day to day application of policy; it is walking the policy talk and it must be consonant and convergent with policy. Practice as uncritical habit without direction or policy nothing more than bureaucratic routine. Practice as the behavior of policy can involve action as well as inaction. Hogwood & Gunn 1984 have noted that inaction can play itself out as both “involuntary failures to act and deliberate actions not to act”. In critical respects practice is a dialectic involving activities that precede policy decision making (analysis of the existing situation, generation of options), the process by which options are implemented and stakeholders are engaged or impacted, how implementation is evaluated and how the lessons are learnt. If we ignore the dialectical character of practice, implementation loses vitality and is quickly reduced to bureaucratic recipe. How often have we seen the emergence of exciting new ideas and policy direction only to see them fossilized by indifferent implementation that utilizes the same tired old approaches to gestate them? New ideas and new direction require energy, delight and a sense of freedom so that their implementation becomes a celebration of possibility and hope. The willingness to face our failings and learn from our contradictions must be at the heart of this dynamic. As Paulo Freire summarized: by doing we learn; and by learning we do better!
  11. 11. Page | 10 The other dimension of the practice dynamic is the outcome of practice. Every application of policy has both intended and unintended consequences and often it is the unintended consequence that carries the most deleterious impact. This was tragically manifested in the CNN news item shown earlier. When unintended consequences are analyzed, we invariably find that the trigger for this effect points back to some seemingly small but critical factor that was overlooked in the elaboration of policy or in the details of the implementation. Even closer examination of that factor will also invariably reveal insufficient dialogue or an inadequate apprehension of the cultural milieu within which the policy is expected to flourish. Here is an example from my own experience. As we planned for the implementation of universal secondary education in St. Lucia about 10 years ago, we were concerned about the issue of quality as a more diverse range of abilities would be entering that level. What could we do to drive continuous improvement in learning at the primary level to ensure that students gaining access to secondary education had mastered the knowledge and competencies to succeed at that level? The abolition of the Common Entrance Exam was not considered to be a viable option since automatic placement would create greater quality challenges at the secondary level. So the approach was to change the CEE from a one-shot exam over time to a system of continuous assessment. Conduct a series of minimum standard tests at key stages of primary so that the CEE would no longer be the ambush that uncovers illiterate and innumerate students in the system. Minimum standard testing would give provide a snapshot to teachers,
  12. 12. Page | 11 schools and parents of student performance in relation to where they ought to be. Moreover, we reasoned, it would facilitate remediation in real time. When the first wave of Minimum Standard tests was administered, individual students received their reports, teachers got their class reports, principals got their school report, District Education Officers got their District Profiles. And the Ministry published a national schools profile which showed the results of all primary schools. The result: the MST profiles were read as league tables; teachers and principals were worried about their respective standing and immediately instituted mock and practice MST tests coupled with MST extra “lessons” in the hope of showing better results. Unintended effect: instead of taming the beast of the Common Entrance, we had created a new litter of baby Common Entrances with all of the genetic characteristics of the parent! So colleagues, it’s not rocket science – it’s encoded in the DNA of Caribbean common sense: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the devil is in the details.” The lack of appreciation of the nuances of testing, accountability and blame in our culture totally undermined what could have been a major reform. Educational policy formulation and practice - in the Caribbean as elsewhere - poses epistemological as well as practical and political challenges. The news item on the beach suicide epitomizes this and begs the question “what ends must policy serve?” what is its raison d’etre?
  13. 13. Page | 12 I am aware of the media hyperventilation over my remarks about the failure of education policy in our contemporary Caribbean but the issue is not fundamentally about the allocation of blame but the assumption of responsibility. The reality is that - as Konidari 2011 notes – all crisis is epistemic. Systems of thinking are also ways of acting and that is why it is so important that we start with a reconceptualization. Habermas (1988) argued that ‘‘crisis in social systems are not produced through accidental changes in the environment, but through inherent system-imperatives that are incompatible and cannot be hierarchically integrated’. For the past three years we have been making the case from the CXC vantage point for addressing this crisis by taking an epistemic and a systemic approach. It is deeply encouraging to see the convergence of perspective emanating from some of the latest thinking. Konidari asserts that: “What we need is a total re-conception and re-construction of the educational reality. It is evident that a system that has been consciously conceived in order to satisfy precise needs and goals can no longer serve the quality model that education needs to survive. It is also evident that a society that denies its political role over its economic growth cannot hope for quality education or any substantial reform. It is also evident that education results reflect larger problems and inequalities in societies; schools cannot
  14. 14. Page | 13 overcome all the inequities and problems around them” (Konidari 2011: 80) Because education cannot be divorced from its social, economic and cultural milieu walking the policy talk, our practice must derive from 3rd generation perspectives. Education policy and implementation is fundamentally a technical act with political consequences. Solutions or policies that are purely “technical” can only achieve limited results but can face deep unanticipated challenges and produce profound unintended consequences. Whether it be a matter of curriculum or instructional capability or access to opportunity, we need to engage the complex array of stakeholders who are affected or impacted. This is not an easy process but it is a necessary principle because the interests of the various players do not necessarily converge. While there can be convergence around the big strategic direction and the fundamental principles, we must recognize and accept that contestation is unavoidable on the details. There are measures that can be deemed to be in the best interest of the student which will be opposed by teachers because they will be seen as affecting their conditions of service; there are measures which on which parents will differ from the Ministry or from teachers. The traditional interests of religious authorities may not converge with the modernizing intent of the state; neither will ethnic or sectarian priorities ride comfortably in the compelling tide of globalization. Just witness the contestation over education in societies such as Afghanistan caught between tradition and modernity and one sees the complexity of the interplay of contradictions between different interest groups.
  15. 15. Page | 14 I suggest that the essence of the role of a ministry of education in the conditions of the 21st Century and the contemporary Caribbean is the management of this process of shaping solution and consensus and the negotiation of legitimation. Have you noticed that the most commonly used adjective of this era is “multi-“? We live in the age of multi-everything: multi-media, multi-disciplinary, multi- tasking, multi-faceted, multi-nationals, multi-lateralism, multi-systems. Legitimation processes are finding common ground through accommodation of difference and, in challenging situations, the co-existence of contradiction. The challenge for policy makers today is that they can no longer stand on the pedestal of central authority/control. Ministries are unable to maintain the old postures of command and control for a variety of contextual reasons. Where structural adjustment and economic dislocation have enfeebled the state, ministries no longer have the power of resource allocation to wield. Where civil society and structures of democratic accountability have gained strength, parents and other actors of civil society correspondingly exercise decisive influence. Education policy must start from an unambiguous principle that the center of focus of the education system must be the learner. The reason we have Ministries of Education is because we have people to educate and this requires the organization of resources and the establishment of systems to enable this process to happen in the most effective and efficient manner. Learning is the central organizing principle from which all things must be added thereto.
  16. 16. Page | 15 Over the last decade we have bought into the neo-liberal prescription that the function of education in society is to produce good workers and grow an economy. Education has become absolutely utilitarian – it has gone down the road of equipping people with specific skills, with readiness for work etc. So the policy narrative shifts to reflect these trends and we end up with reductive conceptions of education expressed in slogans like learning to earn. Let us be clear that education has always and will always contribute to the enhancement of productive capacity in society through the transmission of knowledge and skills but we must also be clear that education has a civilizing function to fulfill. It must serve to make us more human, more social and contribute to the higher evolution of the human spirit. Ultimately you cannot divorce your capacity as a worker from the quality of your person; you cannot demonstrate discipline in the workplace if you don’t manifest it in your daily life; you cannot show good work attitudes if you don’t embody strong personal ethos and a sense of connectedness. You cannot separate your worker identity from your citizen identity. HOW CAN POLICY MAKE A DIFFERENCE? I want to conclude by suggesting what is needed in our region today for policy to make a difference.
  17. 17. Page | 16 1. Articulate a clear sense of purpose – restore learning to the center of focus. Are we teaching subjects or teaching students? There is a BIG conceptual difference. 2. Broaden the Politics (capital P) of education – change the dynamics of power in education by broadening participation and facilitating stakeholder empowerment: parents, teachers, students – each in their own sphere. The hegemony of privileged groups has prevailed for too long. Fundamental change in education will not happen until we allow the viewpoints of all interest groups to contend and to ventilate the debate on direction. And we must be prepared to listen with particular humility to the voices of students, teachers and parents. 3. Critically engage Caribbean reality – in our desperate search for solutions, we have too often looked outside for answers which lie within. I firmly believe that in every context and in every geography, not only does every difficulty constitute an opportunity; but within every problem is hidden the seeds of its solution. Just as every poison embodies its own antedote. There is therefore a significant role for research, proper statistical compilation and data analysis geared towards evidence based policy formulation. None is better placed to lead this function than the Schools of Education and the Teacher Training Institutions across the region. The challenges of our time require robust, dynamic enquiry, bold thinking, and inventive solutions.
  18. 18. Page | 17 4. Learn from experience – local, regional and international. We must learn from good practices wherever they are to be found but we must contextualize these practices to understand how the particular soil yielded this fruit. In every Caribbean territory today, policy makers are actively grappling with some problem which has been confronted with varying degrees of success and failure in some other part of the region. But only in the rarest instances is there any referencing of these prior experiences and the utilization of the lessons learned. There is so much we can learn from our failures as much as our accomplishments. 5. Embrace the power of rigorous research – although we have already spoken about the need to critically engage Caribbean reality, it is still necessary to punctuate the power of rigorous research in generating new knowledge and self-understanding. An absolute precondition of transformation is understanding – you cannot change that which you have no understanding of. I have not even bothered to speak to the issue of the ways in which education itself can make a difference because that would be bringing sand to the sea. Enough has been written and researched on that matter. What I have focused on is the issue of policy and the ways in which it is supposed to establish purpose and inflect practice. We may not be at the extreme position of the First Responders in California but we must continually ask ourselves whether we are inconsiderate bystanders, life savers or life shapers on this educational
  19. 19. Page | 18 landscape. Strong policy, consistent purpose and critical practice are all we need. BIBLIOGRAPHY Brinkerhoff, D.W. and Crosby, B.L. (2002), Managing Policy Reform: Concepts and Tools for Decision-Makers in Developing and Transitioning Countries, Kumerian Press, Connecticut, USA Habermas, J. (1988), Legitimation Crisis, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK. Haddad, W. D. (1994), The Dynamics of Education Policy Making: Case Studies of Burkina Faso, Jordon, Peru and Thailand, World Bank, Washington DC. Hogwood, B.H. and Gunn, L.A. (1984), Policy Analysis for the Real World, Oxford University Press, New York, NY. Konidari, V. (2011) “Education in a complex world: a political question to be answered”, On the Horizon Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 75-84.
  20. 20. MAKING A DIFFERENCE THROUGH EDUCATION: PURPOSE, POLICY &  PRACTICE  Address to the SOE Biennial Conference on  Education Jamaica, June 2011
  21. 21. Purpose Policy Practice
  22. 22. UNDERSTANDING POLICY
  23. 23. 3 WAVES… • First generation policy analysis ‐ economic  models and human capital formation. • Second generation analysis embraced  institutional economics and political economy and the  interplay between state, market and civil society.  • The third generation ‐ policy reform as a dynamic  process involving a complex interplay between macro‐ economic, sectoral and governance reforms with  outcomes that can only be imperfectly predicted or  controlled.
  24. 24. Purpose Policy Practice
  25. 25. We stand at the intersection where the broad vista of  globalization crosses with the open road of  technological possibility but the perception of the  path is complicated by the convolutions of  crisis and contraction and our societal resolve is  weakened by the ravages of drugs, and the erosion of family  and community
  26. 26. “What we need is a total re‐conception and re‐ construction of the educational reality. It is evident  that a system that has been consciously conceived in order  to satisfy precise needs and goals can no longer serve the  quality model that education needs to survive. It is also  evident that a society that denies its political role over its  economic growth cannot hope for quality education or any  substantial reform. It is also evident that education  results reflect larger problems and inequalities in  societies; schools cannot overcome all the inequities and  problems around them” Konidari 2011
  27. 27. sometimes when you are up to your  neck in alligators, it’s easy to forget  that your original intention was to  drain the swamp
  28. 28. Current levels of access to education in the  Caribbean 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 ECD Primary Secondary Tertiary No access Access Sources: Tewarie 2009; Charles & Williams 2010
  29. 29. PRACTICE – WALKING THE POLICY WALK…
  30. 30. By doing we learn And By learning we do better ‐ Paulo Freire
  31. 31. We live in the age of multi-everything: multi‐media,  multi‐disciplinary, multi‐tasking, multi‐ faceted, multi‐nationals, multi‐ lateralism, multi‐systems.
  32. 32. LEARNING CONTENT PEDAGOGY MACRO  ENVIRONMENT ASSESSMENT Not just knowledge but  SKILLS and ATTITUDES Assessment FOR learning;  assessment OF learning Certification Home Institution/School Society Instructional/Learning methods Teacher capacity/quality LEARNING TO CENTER STAGE
  33. 33. HOW CAN POLICY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
  34. 34. all crisis is epistemic. Systems of thinking are also ways of acting
  35. 35. 1.  Articulate a clear sense of  purpose – restore learning to  the center of focus.  Are we  teaching subjects or teaching  students?
  36. 36. 2.  Broaden the Politics  (capital P) of education – change the dynamics of  power in education by  broadening participation  and facilitating stakeholder  empowerment
  37. 37. 3. Critically engage  Caribbean reality
  38. 38. 4.  Learn from experience  – local, regional and  international
  39. 39. 5.  Embrace the power of  rigorous research 

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  • chris876

    Jul. 27, 2016

Feature Address to the UWI Biennial Conference on Education

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