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Re-imagining Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Re-imagining Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Zellynne Jennings and Deon Edwards-Kerr. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2017.

The 2018 World Development Report put out by the World Bank explores what is called Education's Promise, and highlights three matters for us to consider:

1 The need to shine a light on learning

2 How to make school work for learners

3 How to make systems work for learning

This is what Jennings and Edwards-Kerr have forced us to do in Re-imagining Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean. They have recognized, as we do, the importance of fresh perspectives in the process of crafting relevant and innovative education for the new generation and the new world. The rich analysis and data presented advise us of the theoretical bases from which our Caribbean educational systems derive their origins and the facilitating and hindering elements in various aspects of the educational process, the range of learning environments which are often created within the overall educational context, the differences among learners, among teachers and the nature of the interactions between them.

1. Shining a light on Learning

The entire volume shines a light on learning and the opening chapter, authored by Jennings, highlights the influence, over the years, of philosophies and ideologies in school curricula, evidenced from the eclectic blend of philosophies reflected in different Education Policy documents generated across the Caribbean. An outcome highlighted is early specialisation in secondary schools, linked to a strong examination-oriented culture, resulting in "teaching to the test", a practice which runs counter to the aims of education as advanced by the philosophical bases of the curriculum, and to those objectives vital to 21st century learning and teaching.

Jennings also shines a light on the confrontation between tradition and the issue of globalization - variously defined - and its impact on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like those of the Caribbean. The vision and hope that globalization would result in increased investment in education in our island states has not been realised and the reality for SIDS has been increased income inequality, and limited access to resources, including technology. Added to this is the "commodification" of education and the questionable quality of programmes offered by overseas entities for financial benefit rather than for nation building and the preservation of our cultural heritage.

2. How to make school work for learners

Using the notion espoused in the United Nations Rights Framework that "education is a right for all children, regardless of ability, ethnicity, language or social class" as the rationale for inclusive education, Edwards-Kerr and Spencer-Ernandez emphasize the importance, yet difficulties, associated with ensuring that students with differentiated needs and requirements for specialized assistance are not overlooked. Such disadvantages often compound other drawbacks such as social and/or economic deficiencies. The authors point to the need for Policy declarations to clarify terms such as "mainstreaming", "integration" and "inclusion" and set the stage for interventions designed to overcome the difficulties associated with achievement of the goal of inclusion.

When we consider how to make school work for learners, teacher education emerges as the critical variable in re-imagining education. Hordatt-Gentles emphasizes that a reconceptualization of the way teachers are trained is vital to facing the challenges associated with meeting stakeholders' expectations for education in the Caribbean's future. Sadly, as she puts it:
While teacher education has improved the quantity of teachers
available, it has not kept pace with demands for producing quality
teachers and so is seen as complicit in the failure of Caribbean
education to be effective, efficient and high quality.

One aspect of teacher education which is vital is training in the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The twenty first century classroom is populated with students termed "digital natives" and demands teachers who are familiar and comfortable with ICTs enough to use them effectively to facilitate student learning. Jennings reports on 2 case studies of Jamaican projects which have had widespread implementation but whose impact is difficult to measure accurately. In one case, the evaluation phase was insufficiently funded so the impact of teacher training in the use of the new methodologies could not be accurately determined.

The relationship between gender and learning as well as gender and achievement is explored by Jennings. Gender socialization at home and at school, gender differentiation of the school curricula, teacher expectations of male and female students as well as the interaction of these factors with other variables such as social class, combine to make this relationship a very complex one. An interesting aspect of the discourse is the gender stereotyping of school subjects and the interplay of this with male and female teachers. Controversy about male educational underachievement, and male privilege and outcomes in terms of social, cultural, professional and financial advantage make this a critical issue in re-imagining education for the future.

3. How to make systems work for learning

Traditional influences as well as more recent developments like globalization have significantly affected policy and practice in Caribbean education. State-run institutions are guided by policy and in recent years there has been a continuing tension between quantity and quality in terms of education input and output. Globally, quantity is paramount; indicators such as access, enrolment, attendance at primary and secondary levels along with transition to tertiary level are used to judge systems without the concomitant focus on quality. Edwards-Kerr highlights the vital importance of indicators of quality (poor quality) such as male underachievement, inadequacy of resources, inconsistency in teacher quality, and minimal accountability, commenting that:
The outcomes show that educational reform over the past 30 years has
not had the desired impact on teaching and learning, (p.xiii)

An issue which threatens the entire education system is Violence; a major concern, escalated by repeated incidents occurring in the US and the very real possibility of copy-cats in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Edwards-Kerr encourages an extension of focus from conventional definitions of violence to consider issues such as cyber-bullying and the potential for the "grooming" of youths in schools to become gang members. Existing interventions such as the 2004 Safe Schools programme in Jamaica have not been adequate and she advocates for research to be directed towards multidisciplinary approaches to intervention; including relationship guided practices such as mentoring.

Down points to the need to replace the "unsustainable" models of development bequeathed to the Caribbean by colonial powers for a more "sustainable" development model. This would feature incorporation of concepts such as social justice, equity, and environmental conservation; values expected to facilitate a sustainable future for Caribbean nations. The process of education for such a model would involve a significant departure from the traditional didactic teaching and rote learning characteristic of a teacher-centred model (and still practiced widely) to the more progressive and constructivist practices emphasising critical thinking and problem solving. It requires abandoning the "Sage on the Stage" role to be the "Guide on the Side". This necessarily has implications for teacher education.

In the final chapter entitled Reflections on the Way Forward the authors ask:
What sort of education is needed by these young people whose world is
one where technology advances so rapidly and where they are forever on
smartphones and online on Twitter, Instagram, and videogaming, Netflix
and TV-on-demand? We want them to be critical thinkers and problem
solvers, curious, imaginative and entrepreneurial. We want them to be
adaptable, emotionally intelligent and have multiple literacies,
including the ability to communicate in a global world of many
languages. But do we have the teachers who can prepare them? Do we have
the teacher educators to adequately train the teachers and serve as
good role models?

Re-imagining Education is a most welcome addition to the educational literature. It documents issues associated with the context and process of education and creates an awareness of the need for us to "take stock" of what is and re-imagine what can and should be. The book addresses different themes, from philosophical/ideological perspectives and globalisation to policy, sustainable development and inclusiveness, teacher education, ICT, gender and school violence. All pertain to the context within which education in the Caribbean has been developed and now functions. The Reflections and Activities at the end of most chapters are valuable in terms of forcing the reader to contemplate the concepts shared and also to become engaged in the needed re-imagining to formulate possibilities in response to the issues raised. The bibliographies are also a treasure trove of local research and analysis. The book is a must-read for Caribbean educators.

Elsa Leo-Rhynie is a retired Jamaican academic, former Deputy Principal and a professor emerita of the University of West Indies.
COPYRIGHT 2018 University of the West Indies, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies
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Author:Leo-Rhynie, Elsa
Publication:Social and Economic Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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