Prioritising Quality Education
The following is Minister for Education, Heritage and Arts Mahendra Reddy’s address during the Fiji Head Teachers’ Association Conference in Lautoka.
The Permanent Secretary for Education Iowane Tiko, The Acting President – Fiji Head Teachers Association Atekini Duaibe,The General Secretary – Fiji Head Teachers Association Arun Padarath, The Directors and other Senior Staff from Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts, Head Teachers of various schools throughout Fiji, and ladies and gentlemen; Good Morning, Ni Sa Bula Vinaá! and Warm Greetings to all!
Prioritising Quality Education deliverance mandates all stake holders to connect and collaborate and the most important people spearheading this drive are the School Heads.”
It is my pleasure to meet and address you all and officially open the Fiji Head Teachers’ Association 2017 Conference. I also bring to you warm greetings from our Prime Minister, Hon. Frank Bainimarama. Foremost, I wish to thank you all for your hard work, effort and commitment that you have rendered towards your schools and the Fijian communities at large. Your leadership of schools particularly following the aftermath of Cyclone Winston and during rehabilitation works was exemplary. I also render my special thanks and appreciation to all those Heads of Schools who have retired during the course of the year. A Conference of this nature, involving people who spearhead education in the 736 Primary schools across Fiji, is a core component of education and I applaud the efforts of all the stakeholders who have teamed up to organize this forum.
Ladies and gentlemen, problems of organising primary schools are constantly cropping up in all countries because the increasing pace of change in society inevitably has its effect on education. Emile Blanc in her article titled “Primary Education : Issues and Trends’’, published in the International Journal of Educational Management in 1990, Vol. 4, Issue: 3, p. 28, states that:
“While schools should not remain isolated from economic and social changes, it is their duty to correct certain social phenomena detrimental to a sound and balanced education of primary school pupils. Curricula have to be brought up to date regularly and pupils must be progressively introduced to the basic elements of science and technology by methods suitable to their stage of intellectual development. Our society is more and more influenced by the results of scientific and technical progress and young people must be prepared to live in such a society.”
She further adds that, educational reform can only be effective if school management, teaching staff, parents and related social organisations collaborate together.
2.0 Outlook of 21st Century Education Ladies and gentlemen, global education in the current era is manifested at meeting the demands of the current blend of students. These students carry skills, abilities, capacities and tools that bolster their ability to learn and explore education with its boundless possibilities. The tools of disseminating education have changed from being more teacher-centered to increasingly student focused.
Andreas Schleicher (2012), Ed., in a Report titled: “Preparing Teachers and Developing school leaders for the 21st century: Lessons around the world”, published by OECD (http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264xxxxxx – en ); p.11, states that:
“A generation ago, teachers could expect that what they taught would last for a lifetime of their students. Today, where individuals can access content on Google, where routine cognitive skills are being digitised or outsourced, and where jobs are changing rapidly, education systems need to place much greater emphasis on enabling individuals to become lifelong learners, to manage complex ways of thinking and complex ways of working that computers cannot take over easily. Students need to be capable not only of constantly adapting but also of constantly learning and growing, of positioning themselves and repositioning themselves in a fast changing world”.
Thus, these changes have profound implications for teachers, teaching and learning and most importantly for the leadership of schools and education systems.
In the past, the policy focus was on the provision of education, today it is on outcomes. Andreas Schleicher (2012: p.11) further elaborates in the same report that:
The past was about delivered wisdom, the challenge now is to foster user-generated wisdom among teachers in the frontline;
In the past, teachers were often left alone in classrooms with significant prescription on what to teach. The most advanced education systems now set ambitious goals for students and are clear about what students should be able to do, and then prepare their teachers and provide them with the tools to establish what content and instruction they need to provide to their individual students;
In the past, different students were taught in similar ways, today teachers are expected to embrace diversity with differentiated pedagogical practices; and
The goal of the past was standardisation and conformity, today it is about being ingenious, about personalising educational experiences; the past was curriculum-centered, the present is learner centered.
Teachers are being asked to personalise learning experiences to ensure that every student has a chance to succeed and to deal with increasing cultural diversity in their classrooms and differences in learning styles, taking learning to the learner in ways that allow individuals to learn in the ways that are most conducive to their progress.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this educational journey, we are not trying to address the current generation of children only and nor are we addressing problems for contemporary Fiji only.
We are in the process of setting a foundation for education delivery and ideological, philosophical and mindset change for current and future generation of children for a secure and prosperous future Fiji.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are preparing our students for the needs and demands of the 21st century careers, which will mandate them to know how to think critically, solve problems, to innovate, to collaborate and thus, meet the demands of the changing job markets.
Ladies and gentlemen, change is vital for the progress of any individual, group or organisation and education is seen as the single most important ingredient of the change process.
Schools, therefore, have to offer situations and an environment which inculcates these attributes and thereby supporting students’ holistic growth and development. Our aim is to deliver to our children the highest quality education contextualised to demands of this era.
This is where we need leaders or School heads who are empowered with 21st century skills. You all as School Leaders are facilitators of change, managers of change and more so, ambassadors of change and as such your roles are crucial to the process.
3.0 Theme and Context : Effective and Efficient Leaders for 21st Century Learners
Ladies and gentlemen, as I have already deliberated before, the current education system needs ‘Effective and Efficient Leaders for 21st Century Learners’ and this approach contextualised in the theme of this Conference is as such immensely appropriate. The Fijian Education system is going through a major overhaul in terms of quality and excellence and we need empowered, effective and efficient educational leaders who can bring about positive changes in the lives of our children.
Kenneth Leithwood, et. (2004), in the work “Review of research: How leadership influenc es student learning ”, published by University of Minnesota, University of Toronto and Wallace Foundation, states that Leadership is widely regarded as a key factor in accounting for differences in the success with which schools foster the learning of their students. The contribution of effective and efficient leadership is largest when it is needed most. While other factors within the school also contribute to such turnarounds, leadership is the catalyst.
Ladies and gentlemen, effective education leadership makes a great difference in improving learning. Effective 21st century leaders are those who have overwhelming positive effect on the physical and cultural environment of the school, particularly towards the human resources under his or her command. An effective leader forefronts issues, scenarios, processes, instructions and developments and ensures the desired end results are met. Meaning the concerted efforts of all stakeholders flowing through the command of the leader is functional and produces the right outcome.
These leaders are impactful and create that team spirit and bonding much needed for growth and development. As School heads, effectiveness is seen through the end result of your efforts. The academic results of the school; the performance in extra-curricular activities; the physical and cultural environment of the school; and the type of services rendered to the children are some key indicators.
Efficient leaders in the 21st century are those who can be counted upon to get the targets attained. These leaders thrive under pressure and always find solutions to address issues.
They do not buckle under the demands of education in the 21st century, but rather use that to strengthen their work ethics to meet the desired standards. Efficient leaders adopt a ‘role model approach’ to leadership. They set examples and lead from the front in terms of meeting targets and inculcate inspiration for others.
Kenneth Leithwood, et. (2004), in the “ Review of research : How leadership in fluences student learning”, published by University of Minnesota, University of Toronto and Wallace Foundation, (p.8,9) further points out that the three sets of practices which make up the basic core of successful leadership practices are:
(i) Setting directions
A critical aspect of leadership is helping a group to develop shared understandings about the organisation and its activities and goals that can promote a sense of purpose or vision.
Much of the success of school leaders in building high-performance organisations (organisations which make significantly greater-than-expected contributions to student learning) depends on how well these leaders interact with the larger social and organisational context in which they find themselves. Helping set directions are specific practices as identifying and articulating a vision, fostering the acceptance of group goals and creating high performance expectations. Visioning and establishing purpose are also enhanced by monitoring organisational performance and promoting effective communication and collaboration.
(ii) Developing people
While clear and compelling organisational directions contribute significantly to members’ work-related motivations, they are not the only conditions to do so. Nor do such directions contribute to the capacities members often need in order to productively move in those directions. The ability to engage in practices that help develop people depends, in part, on leaders’ knowledge of the “technical core” of schooling – what is required to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
(iii) Redesigning the organisation
Successful educational leaders develop their schools as effective organisations that support and sustain the performance of administrators and teachers as well as students. This category of leadership practices has emerged from recent evidence about the nature of learning organisations and professional learning communities and their contribution to staff work and student learning. Practices typically associated with this category include strengthening school cultures, modifying organisational structures and building collaborative processes.
In addition, Ladies and gentlemen, with technological advancement, increasing social problems, new ideas, there is a need to strengthen virtues and values amongst our students as well as our teachers.
Values and virtues will instill discipline amongst students as well as staff and will eventually improve attendance and punctuality. As School Heads, your role in promoting important virtues and values amongst the students as well as the staff is paramount.
A culture needs to be created in the school whereby the students and staff understand each other’s values and thoughts. Being appreciative, recognising and accepting other’s differences would enable one to work collaboratively with others and together meet set benchmarks.
Furthermore, you need to make yourselves more approachable and known to the teachers, students and the community that you are there to assist and guide them. You all must maintain your integrity as Heads at all times. We are accountable for the role and its responsibilities as bestowed upon us. You, as Heads are accountable to Government’s resources which are channeled in the schools systems, e.g. bus fare scheme, infrastructural Development, usage of grant money, text books, teachers, etc.
Ladies and gentlemen, our Government has revolutionised the entire education system by first acknowledging that access to education is the right of every Fijian and then, progressively, removing all obstacles to accessing education by all Fijians. We have eased their difficulties and stood tall to our promise of prioritising education.
All children deserve to be given access to quality education without any compromises. We have got children back in the classrooms, even during this country’s most challenging times, but we are depending on School Heads to lead this movement in their schools. This is where exceptional leadership traits will support School Heads delivery of services to the children. No child, seeking knowledge, must be excluded from or given access to unequal educational opportunities.
School Heads also have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the school’s physical and cultural environment guarantees the health, well-being and safety of children and should therefore, continuously liaise with other stakeholders to upgrade, improve and lift the environment standards.
4.0 Our Output: Student Performance measured by Examination Results
By now, you all should know where your school stands in terms of the External Examination results of 2015 and last year. You should have already developed specific strategies to improve these results.
If we look at the overall per cent pass rate at Year 6 level, it is still below 50 per cent. We need to reflect on the reasons for this. Also, our Year 8 results have gone down from 70 per cent to 65 per cent. There is a serious need to re-look at our immediate strategies and monitoring procedures in place.
Similarly, if we look at the performance of students in the major subjects at Year 6 and Year 8 levels, performance in some subjects is a matter of concern, especially at Year 6 level.
Dear School Heads, there is a need to urgently reflect on our current strategies and measures in place. We need to strengthen the literacy and numeracy skills amongst our students as Primary education is the foundation for that.
If we examine the district wise performance that is, per cent of schools above 50 per cent pass rate, we note that there is a marked improvement in all districts in the Fiji Year 6 Examination results in 2016. However, there is a decline in the per cent of schools above 50 per cent pass rate in Year Eight Examination from 2015 to 2016. At Year 6 level, the best performing District in terms of 2016 results is the Macuata/Bua while at Year 8 level, Lautoka/Nadi/Yasawa stands with the highest percentage of schools above 50per cent pass rate.
Ladies and gentlemen, our target from day one is 100 per cent pass rate and nothing else. Some schools are showing this dedication and their results are glowing. For example, if we look at the per cent pass rate of individual schools, for Year Six the number of schools achieving a 100 per cent pass rate increased from 16 to 31 schools. Similarly, at Year 8 level in 2015 only 13 schools achieved a 100 per cent pass rate while in 2016, 46 schools achieved a 100 per cent pass rate. These figures are still less in comparison to the 736 primary schools we have.
I challenge other School Heads to work relentlessly towards the 100 per cent target and if 46 schools around the nation can achieve it at Year 8, why not your school?
5.0 Quality Teacher Preparedness, Delivery and Teaching Pedagogies
Ladies and gentlemen, the final output and thus, outcome of a knowledge based society requires us having a dynamic education system, evolving over time and dealing with contemporary issues.
Now, pedagogy is a critical variable in teaching. It deals with having the required knowledge and practice to teach and enhance learning by students. It deals with specialist knowledge and skills on subject matter delivery.
Teaching Pedagogies must be continuously enhanced so that we can improve the learning environment and have the students captivated. From my observation, given the plethora of distractions, this is one of the most important challenges facing Fijian children today.
On this note, I wish to quote from a recent article, published in the Australian Journal of Education in 2016, titled “Multimodal representation during an inquiry problem solving activity in a Year six science class: A class study investigating cooperation, physiological arousal and belief states” by Gillies, et. pp. 111:
“Teaching students to use and interpret different representational tools is critically important if they are to be scientifically literate, to understand how scientific ideas and concepts are represented and to appreciate how scientists think and act. Moreover, students not only need to be competent at using and explaining representations and learning new representations quickly but they also need to have opportunities to work cooperatively with others as it is through interactions between learners, tools and the environment that learning occurs.”
The above calls for more student centered learning, interactive and participating teaching and learning process. That is, teacher education needs a major shift, away from a predominant focus on specifying the necessary knowledge for teaching towards specifying teaching practices that entail knowledge and doing. This will require a move from a preoccupation on curriculum to pedagogy of teacher education.
Emile Blanc in her article titled “Primary Education: Issues and Trends”, published in the International Journal of Educational Management in 1990, Vol. 4, Issue: 3, p. 29, states that “It is hoped that close collaboration between teachers and parents will give rise to a better mutual understanding of each other’s tasks and, in consequence, co-operation which will benefit the pupils themselves, thus reducing repetition and dropout rates.”
6.0 School Discipline Management
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a close co-relation between discipline and academic performance of students. It has been widely acknowledged that disciplinary issues affect academic performance of students. Research also proves this. Chris Baumann, et. (2016) in the article “School discipline, school uniforms and academic performance”, published in the International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 30, Issue:6, p.1017-1018, provides evidence through a study carried out. “In our literature review, we have found evidence that higher levels of discipline would be associated with stronger academic results, and of course vice-versa. There was clear evidence that students who perform strongest academically are one unique subset significantly different to the low and medium performing groups. Those academically high performing students are the ones with the significantly highest discipline scores. Specifically, we found that the highest performing students are the ones who listen best, have the lowest noise levels, and make the teachers wait the shortest to start the class. As one might expect, highest performing students are also the ones that work well, and they contribute to classes starting on time. It could thus be concluded that what is needed is the highest level of discipline for students to peak perform.”
Thus, Ladies and gentlemen, there is a need to prioritise discipline of students with teaching and learning strategies. We need to focus on ways and means to raise children’s self-awareness, have clear rules and consistently enforce that with good discipline. Creating a lively and accommodating atmosphere where students learn with passion and commitment will lead to better academic achievements.
In addition, the Ministry has its own stance on severe disciplinary issues and as such, has decided that we will immediately remove all students from our schools who pose danger to fellow students or the teachers. Our schools are a place where children come for learning. Parents send their child to get educated for a brighter future. We have our teachers to fulfill their dreams. As such, we will, under no circumstances, tolerate anyone disturbing the schools learning environment or distracting other children from fulfilling their dreams.
7.0 Concluding Remarks
The quality of school leadership is very significant to determine the culture of the school and consequently, has an impact on job satisfaction and delivery. The Heads of schools play a critical role in the overall performance of any school.
In Fiji, we have schools located far and beyond. There are many schools located in the rural interior and maritime zones which are doing extremely well. It is the leaders there who are making the difference. We need School Heads who have their vision for the school they serve. They have the true heart to serve the children. Some children come through varied troubled scenarios and when they come to the school, it is their place away from troubles and stress. School Heads are tasked with the responsibility to ensure that children love to come to school and find safety, security and are cared for in schools.
While these children come from varied household conditions, our Government’s vision for every child is to get educated and become equally successful. In this journey to the final outcome, we are equating our schools so that when these children come from different backgrounds, they are all equal in our schools. Therefore, I challenge all School Heads to rise to the occasion to ensure that their schools attain excellence through quality development of children.
With these words, I now declare this Conference open and I wish all of you thoroughly enriching deliberations and wish you all the very best in your work.
Thank You. Vinaka Vaka Levu and Danyavaad