Paper presented at
Phi Beta Delta Annual Conference
March 22- 25, 2006
J. Casey Hurley
In the early 1970s the
Jamaican Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture (MOEY&C) invited
educational force is stratified in the following way.
Starting at the bottom, the Ministry employs
(1) pre-trained teachers -- high school graduates with no teacher’s
training; (2) trained teachers – those with a teacher’s college diploma
is less than a bachelor’s degree); (3) lead teachers, heads of
Only Jamaican teachers with a teacher’s college diploma are eligible for the WCU bachelor’s degree program, which has concentrations in counseling, administration, special education, and math-science teaching. Since the 1980s, many of our Jamaican graduates have moved into positions of leadership in Jamaican education.
In 1997 the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) reported:
WCU offers . . . an
degree program in
But this is not what is
to faculty who teach in
from a feeling of partnership with Jamaican teachers.
Both Jamaican and
assess the current level of practice in
schools and then attempt to help their educators enhance the level of
practice. Just as teachers are taught to
“begin where the student is,” our efforts in
Although this may be common sense, it emphasizes that this is not a beachcombing assignment. Faculty need to learn as much as possible, as quickly as possible, about the Jamaican schools, or they will not be able to help their students “enhance the level of practice” (Loughlin, 1999).
struggle with the question of whether or not we can actually make a
for the young people of
of this paper discusses the historic, economic and social elements of
culture, which make it different from
in the late 19th century, but independence from
The Jamaican Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture is the government agency responsible for providing a system of universal, almost free, public schooling for young people through Grade 12. The following characteristics of that system make it imperative that we adjust what we teach to the conditions faced by Jamaican teachers and students:
1. Jamaican schools are poorly equipped and overcrowded. Classrooms often have rosters of fifty to sixty students. Books, equipment, and educational materials are scarce. Still, many Jamaican teachers confront this lack of resources in creative ways. They strive to find and use new technologies, especially the internet. This new technology, in particular, has the potential to make knowledge more accessible to Jamaicans.
2. Student attendance is sporadic. Although education is available for all Jamaican children, young people who are members of various localized cultures attend school sporadically. These sub-cultures exist in both rural and urban regions. This has implications, particularly, for the teaching of reading.
3. Teacher attendance is sporadic. In a sense, sporadic teacher attendance is built into Jamaican schools. Jamaican teachers are afforded 12 annual leave days -- days when teachers do not report to school so they can do their own business. Although teachers are supposed to inform the administration in advance of taking a leave day, in a culture where few rules are written down or enforced, what actually happens is that teachers sometimes just do not go to work on days when they have personal business. The Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA) bargained for this “benefit” because the government could not afford higher teacher salaries. Low teacher salaries, in turn, create even more sporadic teacher attendance. For example, teachers who cannot afford their own cars must take public transportation, which is unreliable. Proffit (2004) found that poor staff and student attendance was consistently identified as a “problem” in Jamaican schools.
4. Jamaican educators face a unique literacy issue. Most Jamaican children speak Patois in their homes -- the language of casual discourse among many Jamaicans. Their mass media, however, use standard English and students are expected to read, write, and speak English in schools. Most Jamaicans are essentially bi-lingual, but they are ambivalent about the role of Patois in their educational system. On one hand they are proud of its cultural roots -- it began as a way for slaves to communicate secretly among themselves. On the other hand, some “hear” it as an indication of being uneducated, so they frown on its use in schools and other formal situations. Those who are not fluent in the “Queen’s English” do not advance in Jamaican society; therefore, some teachers see it as their mission to teach standard English to all children, even the high numbers who speak patois in their homes.
A second literacy issue is the lack of
materials. Little is published in
Finally, the Jamaican education system has
its roots in
the British system. It has recently
begun to emulate American education because more and more high school
These are the conditions faced by
Jamaican teachers. Clearly, they differ
significantly from those
But Jamaican K-12 education is kept behind closed doors. And one of the reasons is Jamaican culture. When I have been invited to visit a student’s or an alumnus’s school, the teachers treat me like a guest and the normal routine is interrupted for my benefit. For example, if I step inside a classroom, the teacher might ask students to stand and recite a passage they have memorized. I first attributed these occasions to Jamaican etiquette. I felt appreciated as their guest; and I, in turn, credited the students for their recitation achievement. Eventually, I realized these recitations were also an indication of something the Jamaicans did not want me to see – that they have almost no reading and learning materials. When no materials are available for independent study, students must memorize the texts that are available.
When this occurred to me, I wondered if we American professors understood the effect this has on teaching. I don’t think we have come to grips with this example of a major difference in our two school systems. We have not asked the question, “What are the effects of having almost no learning and teaching materials available in Jamaican schools?” We have not done so because we assume a certain level of resources, and then we use this assumption as a foundation for teaching classes in counseling, administration, supervision, psychology, special education, and teaching methods. We need to learn from Jamaican teachers what it is like to have so few resources. Only then will we be able to become relevant to Jamaican education.
So far, however, Jamaican teachers have not wanted to admit that their system is so impoverished. They are proud people who want to be good hosts. Can they understand that we want to be more than guests? We want to be relevant to their educational system, regardless of its strengths and weaknesses.
A few of our faculty have taught the Practicum course, which takes us into Jamaican schools during the school day. While there we see and experience what Jamaicans do not want us to see – the lack of instruction, the poor facilities and equipment, and the way in which some classrooms are on the edge of chaos. I have seen this, but most faculty have not.
of a two-week course, we professors often meet at a beach
resort. While immersed in the
cultures, however, we have to continue to question the extent to which
make a difference. If we accepted our
Jamaican students’ claims at face value, without considering that there
subtle, yet powerful cultural elements at work, we would be accepting
unusual premise – that we are more relevant in another culture than we
our own. I say this because the
appreciation of our Jamaican students is far greater than that of our
This course provided a challenge to most of us in that we seemed to have been very comfortable in a system that is not working. We now see where we have a responsibility to move away from our easy zone and create for ourselves and others a community that will enrich us.
The course was an excellent one. We have really covered a lot and will use what we have learned to our best advantage.
The instructor is a dynamic one. He kept the class thinking, even after class. For too long we have just accepted certain positions. Now we cannot. After taking this class we cannot take these things for granted. Instead, we have to examine our positions.
These responses to our courses encourage us, but we must continually wonder, “Does their appreciation make us giddy, like the Red Stripe that revives us at sunset?”
faculty have tried to bring cultural differences to the surface, so
be part of the discussion of the ways we are, or are not, benefiting
education. Loughlin (1999) has described
the history of the WCU-Jamaica program in his doctoral dissertation
Proffit (2004) has studied what Jamaican teachers consider their major
issues; and McGinty (2003) presented a paper on Jamaican teachers’
toward testing. The remainder of
paper will discuss the relevancy question by describing McGinty’s
efforts to teach her students about standardized testing, and by
own experience teaching instructional supervision in
chose these two
experiences because they are examples of how we adjust what we teach in
First, McGinty (2003) examined how Jamaicans feel about the testing culture in their schools. She sought to find out what they believed about testing as she taught Tests and Measurements. She wrote:
Since the Jamaican examination system is more rigid than our own, I had expected—perhaps naively—to hear from my students the same criticisms I often hear at home. Surprisingly, however, my Jamaican students revealed themselves to be, with few exceptions, strong supporters of the tests. I set about to find explanations for this view, to understand what meanings the tests might hold for my students. (McGinty, 2003)
It is not important to re-state her findings, here. But we can use her paper to demonstrate one of the ways we struggle as we try to confront strongly held educational beliefs in their culture.
First, she described the contradictions she saw in the journal reflections of her students:
These attitudes among her students surprised her, but she did not think it her role to convince them of the political uses of testing.
In my teaching I had resolved to try to appear neutral on most issues. I wanted my students to be exposed to, and to reflect on, different sides of a given issue; at the same time, I preferred, for both pedagogical and research-related reasons, not to over-emphasize my own opinion, and often even to avoid giving it. (McGinty, 2003)
She taught the technical knowledge that would enable students to form their own political judgments. Only when she realized their politics would not be changed, even by studying and understanding the limitations and unfairness of standardized testing, did she feel a need to assert her own beliefs. If she had not, she would have been in danger of being worse than irrelevant. She would have been complicit in the Jamaican sorting machine that is their standardized testing program.
But, as it became clear to me that my students had never considered the possibility that the testing playing field might not be level after all, I began to probe the students a bit, inciting them to consider this possibility more carefully. Even then, most students were reluctant to embrace the view that testing might stifle opportunities rather than create them. (McGinty, 2003)
Like a good teacher, she decided to “assess the current level of practice in Jamaican schools and then attempt to help their educators enhance the level of practice” (Loughlin, 1999)
contrasted Jamaican teachers’ situations with those of teachers in
apparent from class
discussions and interviews that the examination system gives teachers a
of purpose and direction in instruction.
Jamaican teachers are long accustomed to following the national
curriculum and the examination syllabi in their courses, and those in
did not seem to expect the degree of autonomy and freedom that my
She noted that different professional norms explained part of the reason why her Jamaican students persisted in their belief that standardized testing is good, fair, and helpful to students and teachers.
summarized the ways she was comparing her graduate students in
Possible inequities in the testing system were also not generally acknowledged by my students, with a few notable exceptions. Perhaps I should not have expected them to have reflected seriously about the equity issue. After all, their experiences have been different from mine; unlike American educators, they have not been sensitized to equity issues through the Civil Rights Movement, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and educational foundations courses. Try as I might, however, I could not shed my own cultural clothing, especially with regard to this point. I wanted to know—but did not ask—how they could fail to see the tests as being inherently unfair. How could they believe, as Catherine does, that the tests create a level playing field? Couldn’t they see that the playing field is uneven to begin with, and that the tests just perpetuate and exacerbate the unevenness? (McGinty, 2003)
“I will definitely use my voice and start to make a change by starting with those I work with as I have come to realize that most changes occur from the bottom up.”
“The eye-opening experience of finding out that I have oppressed others is still shocking to me.”
“Although I would love to incorporate all of Freire’s strategies in my classroom, I am concerned that they (my students) will be disadvantaged and disenfranchised when they leave my school.”
“The next thing I need to do is see the system for what it is – Oppressive! I then will have to share my ideas lovingly and humbly.”
Freire, P. (2003). Pedagogy
of the oppressed.
Green-Evans, V. (2004). Ghost of the Common
Loughlin, M. (1999). Unpublished Doctoral
McGinty, D. (2003). A Qualitative Study of Jamaican Educators’
Attitudes toward Testing. Unpublished
paper presented at the American Educational Studies Association Annual
Convention, November, 2003,
Proffit, A.C. (2004). Problems Facing Jamaican Schools. In Research on Education in