As I was saying last week, teaching materials in their thousands are to be found online free of charge. There are even more that can be subscribed to. Publishers today offer individual, local and national online subscriptions for their materials that are much more efficient than their paper products. And think of all the rain forests that will be saved thanks to this! In addition, a special bonus is that publishers can offer diagnostic, self-correcting tests online that make the job of teachers even more efficient. It’s sad, I agree, but books in schools have had it. Their time is past. Even inveterate book lovers like me have to realise that books can be read on Kindles and other devices that can carry a whole library. You still have to read even though your pages are on a screen.
Such a revolution has to happen once we begin to think computers in schools. And what is the best way to support computerisation in schools? With computers, (I use the word ‘computers’ to cover all forms of smartphones, tablets, pads, laptops, desktops, etc.), obviously, but we also have to ensure suitable content that requires computers to be used. Paper books don’t do this. Online books do. Secondly, in order to avoid redundancies and to safeguard knowledge and experience we have to use the resources available in a new exciting way, which is where CAMDU and its curriculum specialists come in. By utilising CAMDU’s resources we protect employees from redundancy, make use of their skills and knowledge, and ensure a steady supply of quality materials that can be downloaded, saved and catalogued for further use, thus transforming CAMDU from a moribund entity on the sidelines into a vibrant, efficient, motor for the island’s education machinery. And the costs will be minimal.
So what’s next to address? I have visited all the District Offices at one time or another and I have to say that there is a vast difference in the quality of the buildings that house them and the amenities that are available, which clearly would affect the quality of service provided to teachers and schools. In addition, I have never really understood what District Offices and their Officers are supposed to do, which is why I would like to add a few words on this topic. Firstly I believe that it is of paramount importance that the offices should be of the same high quality in each district in order to deliver the required services, including appropriate conference facilities and secretarial staff. I would suggest that the role of District Officers be defined and monitored. If there is not already a Head District Officer based at the ministry in control of the programme then there should be. Self-monitoring seldom works.
I would charge District Officers with the following: 1) General supervision of district schools; 2) Monthly monitoring of district schools via site visits; 3) Spontaneous spot-checks on lessons in classrooms; 4) Monthly in-Service training and information meetings at the district office. These would be held on different days of the month to allow the same programme to be run in each district throughout the month; 5) Daily telephone calls to principals to address ongoing issues. These should be logged online; 6) Once-monthly meetings at the ministry level to plan and report events, actions and corrections, which would give structure to the national programme. I am sure there’s lots more, but this is just a beginning. It wouldn’t surprise me if everything I have mentioned were already in place but, if it is, I’m not sure it’s working properly.
You might have noticed that one of the first things I said about district offices was the need for good, clean, mission appropriate buildings to house the facility. Well, if that is true about district offices, it has to be a thousand times more important to have good, clean, safe schools, but I will come to them in the next installment of this letter. For today, I would like to concentrate on the most important rooms in any school: the rooms for the staff. A happy staff creates a happy environment, which in turn leads to a happy, successful school. After over 45 years of visiting schools in Saint Lucia I can safely say that the hygiene stinks, the comfort is non-existent, the learning/teaching environment is deplorable, and basically nothing has changed in almost half a century. Bring kids up in a pigsty and they will behave like pigs.
The least one would require of a normal school is a staff room that 1) is well lit, 2) is well ventilated, 3) is insulated against the elements, 4) has adequate, comfortable seating, 5) perhaps has air conditioning, 6) has accommodation for study, preparation of lessons and marking of papers, 7) has adequate, clean, functioning toilet and washing facilities, 8) is cleaned daily by designated staff, 9) is well-maintained, 10) has lockers with locks for staff members, 11) has secretarial opportunities like copiers, computers, 12) has quiet areas for relaxation and meditation. Make sure your staff has this minimum of comfort and you will find that the success rate of our schools will increase dramatically. Just accept that in this case the teachers come first. I’ll explain why next week.