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Wednesday 21 November 2018
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Commentary

Accountability in education

TTUTA

AS WITH any endeavour involving human achievement or growth, the results of the 2018 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) have once again generated emotive responses from the population with regard to the levels of student achievement obtained. As has become the societal habit when addressing education or schooling issues, teachers are always the easiest scapegoats when it comes to apportioning blame.

As a responsible society, however, it is important for us to objectively assess the situation with regard to the provision of quality education in Trinidad and Tobago and recognise that education is everyone’s business; we all have our part to play in ensuring that children can succeed at schooling.

In this regard, the 2017/2018 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEMR), which addresses the theme “Accountability in Education,” provides us with some critical food for thought when it comes to providing quality education that is all-inclusive.

With the statement, “Stop the blame game, education is a shared responsibility” as a starting point, the GEMR (2017/18) further highlights, “Meeting broad education goals requires collaboration and communication between actors. Public trust and support depend on processes and goals being seen as legitimate and achievable within resource constraints.”

One of the main questions that arises out of this statement is, who are these actors? It is especially important to ask this question. According to the GEMR (201718), “Because ambitious education outcomes rely on multiple actors fulfilling often shared responsibilities, accountability cannot easily rest with single actors.” So, once again, who are these actors?

If we are to achieve the lofty ideal of equitable quality education that is inclusive then all of the following must step up to the plate (to use a baseball analogy) and fulfil their respective responsibilities:

* Governments – fulfilment of the right to education; equitable resource allocation; evidence-based inclusive planning.

* Schools – whole school improvements; safe and healthy places to learn; supportive learning environments.

* Teachers – high quality gender equitable teaching; student well-being; professional norms.

* Parents – attendance; participation in child’s education.

* Students – good behaviour.

The very broad areas of responsibilities identified above can be drilled down into even further to the identification of indicators that will help us measure to what extent these are being satisfied by the respective stakeholder group.

Furthermore, if we are going to adopt an accountability approach this can only succeed in an enabling environment in which all actors are equipped to meet their responsibilities. This requires clear information accompanied by sufficient resources and capacity.

Any lack in these areas will result in the stymieing of efforts on the part of these actors; required are comprehensive policies that recognise the interdependency among these actors, and practices that seek to build rather than blame.

However, instead of an enabling environment, what we have been witnessing is an ever increasing demand to hold people accountable; in education, that demand for accountability has been placed squarely at the feet of teachers, with students’ performance on high-stakes tests used as the benchmark for rewards and sanctions, as well as for evaluating teacher performance and school quality.

As a society, the time has come for Trinidad and Tobago to objectively and judiciously analyse the approach described in the preceding paragraph, particularly in a context such as ours where schools are highly stratified and there are built-in mechanisms in our education system that inadvertently marginalise, disenfranchise and disadvantage some areas of the population over others. It is no longer sufficient for us to talk about equality in education. The conversation starter must now be equity.

We should be working towards ensuring the primary goal in education provision is to make all schools high quality performing schools. This will require equitable distribution of resources on a needs basis.

Where families are in need – this must be addressed! Where schools are under-resourced – this must be addressed! Where schools have disproportionate populations of learners with particular needs that put them at risk for learning – this must be addressed! Where school locations place school populations at risk for their well-being and safety – this must be addressed!

The right to an education is not simply providing a place for children to go to school. The right to an education encompasses measures for all children to learn regardless of their respective challenges or capabilities. It involves ensuring that no citizen exits the education system without adequate competencies to live rich, rewarding lives. Let’s stop the blame game and collaborate on a shared responsibility to educate our nation.

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