Over-staffing, teacher absenteeism found in Region Three schools By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
June 14, 2002

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Record keeping in the areas of administration, organisation and income and expenditure was cited among the strengths in Region Three schools but teacher over-staffing and absenteeism in both primary and secondary schools were cited among the weaknesses.

The Ministry of Education Schools' Inspectorate report on the performance of schools in Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands) was the subject of discussion at a press briefing Education Minister Dr Henry Jeffrey co-hosted with Region Three Education Officer Youman Singh at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD) in Kingston last Friday.

Dr Jeffrey noted that the visit by the Schools' Inspectorate was not intended "to blame but to make the process more transparent in the interest of effectiveness."

Some 23 of the 121 schools in the region were visited, giving a representative sampling of the performance of schools in the region, according to Dr Jeffrey.

The nursery schools visited included Anna Catherina, Farm, Windsor Forest, Vreed-en-Hoop and Parika Backdam while the primaries included Lanaballi, Fort Island, Blankenburg, Cornelia Ida and Aliki and the secondaries included Zeeburg, St John's, Uitvlugt and Leonora. At present, members of the Schools Inspectorate are visiting schools in Region Four, and it is expected that all the administrative regions will be visited.

The ministry, Dr Jeffrey said, recognised that the education system was operating in the context of severe resource shortages but there was the belief that improvements were still possible.

While the Regional Education Officer questioned some of what the report had to say, the minister said that since its publication much has already been done to improve education delivery in the region. This included dealing with the situation of poor attendance at Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings. Singh noted that the attendance at PTA meetings was not reflective of the number of children at the school because in the extended family one person may represent several children attending a school.

On the issue of over-staffing which the inspectorate noted, Singh said that the Regional Education Department was not responsible for the appointment of teachers. He said that the Education Department had written to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC), which has assumed full responsibility for teachers' appointments, about the issue but there was no feedback to date.

The inspectorate also noted that the staff was under-utilised in the secondary schools.

Singh noted, too, that steps were also being taken to deal with punctuality and regularity by staff and students.

The inspectorate noted that some of the information on regularity and punctuality of teachers was not up-to-date: there was a high drop out rate; that a significant number of teachers had exceeded leave concessions during the previous and current school years and no action had been taken by the education department.

It was noted too that at one school when members of the inspectorate visited, the deputy headteacher, the senior master and the heads of departments were all missing. In all, thirteen teachers were absent and the headmistress said that she had found this to be unusual.

However, the inspectorate found that the senior master was very seldom on the job and rarely reported his reasons for absence. The headteacher did not allocate any teaching periods to him but arranged for him to work along with an acting teacher whenever he reported for duty. That senior master was given appraisal awards of 84% in 1999 and 86% in 2000.

In the field of management, the inspectorate noted that a number of school administrators attempted to put charts, plans and programmes in place. However, policies, plans and procedures for the effective management of the plant were not correctly formulated in most cases and some headteachers had no knowledge of what to do and so failed to manage effectively.

In relation to visits by the education department, the inspectorate said that there was very little evidence that officers of the department visited the schools for supervisory purposes. The inspectorate noted that schools administrators and classroom teachers were in dire need of guidance which should be provided by the officers of the education department in order to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

In terms of instructional records, the inspectorate found that attempts were made to put some of the records in place. Some 75% of the schools prepared most of the instructional records. In some schools the level of planning was inadequate regarding schemes of work for the year and the term; lessons plans were not satisfactorily prepared and limited planning was done on a weekly basis; and the elements of the plans were not adequately addressed. The inspectorate found that teachers in the riverain schools lacked the expertise required and most of the teachers were untrained, including headteachers of some of those schools.

However, in spite of the weaknesses in the system the Education Department has reported steady progress by students in their examinations. Improvements were noted in the Caribbean Examinations Council exams and the Secondary Schools Entrance Examinations.

The inspectorate also found that teachers were ill-prepared for the teaching/ learning process, often teaching from the text. In addition, monitoring of teachers was lacking, particularly in relation to the young and inexperienced ones.