Arrindell announces a range of plans in education address

POSTED: 08/18/11 3:11 PM

“We must restore common sense to education.”

St. Maarten – Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Rhoda Arrindell has reasserted her opposition to the statement that education is in shambles, but has opined that it is “not as healthy as it should be.” The minister’s views were laid out Wednesday in her first State of Education Address.
“The state of our education is not as healthy as it should be. We face numerous challenges which we cannot shy away from. However, we must restore common sense to education and accept the fact that the focal point of everything we do must be the student. Moulding the mind of that student should be the beginning and the end of all our endeavors as educators,” Arrindell said.

Delivered from the lectern in the Dr. A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall the speech was aimed at informing people about the current status of education and the plans going forward. Several pledges were made, but none carried concrete implementation dates. Each announcement though seemed to link to the next and all are aimed at the overall improvement of education.
Data collection was the first priority identified in the speech. The minister believes this has not been done well in the past and has tasked the ministry with improving their data collection so they can identify where the system is working and where it is not work. Even though that’s just beginning Arrindell has already begun the process to create a simplified system where all primary students take one school leaving examination and that secondary schools also have a one model of secondary that will prepare students for either tertiary studies or the job market. Creating these two systems will simplify the current system where students at secondary level are streamed into either HAVO or VWO on the academic side and SBO, TKL, PKL and PBL on the vocational side.
One concrete activity around data collection is an analysis of the results of last school’s HAVO, MAVO and VWO exams. The pass rates fell below expectation and the ministry is analyzing those and other results to find out why students did not fare well and advise on ways to improve their performance.

Teacher training and evaluation
In order to give honor to teachers, like Suwana Musticat of the Geneveve de Weever School, who go the extra mile in support of their students Arrindell has pledged to introduce an “Education Medal of Honor” during the 2011/2012 school year. The minister has also announced that her ministry will work “even closer” with the University of St. Maarten this year to ensure that the Teacher Education Program meets international standards and produces sufficient qualified teachers annually to meet the national need. Part of the plan will include creating more incentives for people, especially men, who want to be teachers.
The initiative to improve the Teacher Education Program is partially aimed at reducing the number of teachers who come from abroad over a period of time. While the Teacher Education Program is being improved, the minister has requested the staff of the ministry to identify how teachers who have retired can be brought back into service.
“In this modern age when today’s 60 is yesterday’s 40, it is a regretful waste of very scarce human resource to condemn such teachers to walking the dog, when they could still do what they have done best all their lives: teach,” Arrindell said.
The minister also announced that work continues on a new evaluation system that will cover teachers and schools. The system will focus on efficiency and effectiveness, use student performance as a key indicator and be based on a set of standards and best practices modeled off the expertise of the island’s best teachers and school managers and lead to support for teachers who skills need to be upgraded.
“This process is ongoing, with the all-important input of the Windward Islands Teachers Union, WITU, whose president and board I must commend for their cooperation in this and other matters during the past year. My Ministry will continue to facilitate a collaborative process with the WITU, school boards, and managers, as well as other stakeholders, to design model teacher and school manager evaluation tools. And I am confident that we can develop a method of evaluation for teachers and principals that is just and fair which can receive the support of the entire education community,” Arrindell said.

Once completed the system will guide schools as they make decisions about promotion, compensation, and professional development and create “equitable distribution of effective teachers and school managers in schools which have critical staffing problems, and in subjects and specialty areas for which effective teachers are hard to come by.”
As a means of improving efficiency Arrindell is also pressing the school boards to reduce teacher and student absenteeism as this contributes to lower performance and an increase in the drop-out rates. This is her way of ensuring that the 75 million guilders government will give school boards in 2011. This is a 23 percent increase over 2010 and is more than 73 percent of the ministry’s budget this year.
“We will hold the school boards accountable for the tax-payers’ money they receive each year,” the minister said.

Parental Involvement
Arrindell also stressed parental involvement in her address. She pointed out yet again that schools are not day care centers and teachers are not glorified baby sitters. The minister has stressed that parents move past dropping their children at school and only return to pick up report cards or pick fights with teachers over discipline.
“From their physical appearance and health to their academic progress, including supervising their homework and school projects, the parent who wants his or her child to succeed, must be constantly involved in all the school activities the child has to perform. This includes sports and cultural events where, in many cases, parents are visibly absent,” the minister said.
In order to facilitate parental involvement Arrindell intends to request businesses give parents time off to attend activities their child is involved in.

Ministry actions
The ministry itself will also be held to high standards and will further roll out departments that focus on its new responsibilities. The ministry has so far rolled out the Inspection Department and Examinations Division and will make the Department of Student Support Services operational this year. Service delivery will also be a core part of the ministry’s business. This will include providing assistance to the educational community, leveraging best practices and keeping track of results.
Reviewing the country’s education laws is also a priority for the ministry and priority has been given to developing a National Education Plan, which will be put to the public for discussion. The ministry is also rewriting the curriculum at the various levels to recognize founding fathers like Dr. Claude Wathey, Clem Labega, Lionel Bernard Scot, (or L.B. Scot), Milton Peters, Jose Lake Sr., Wallace Peterson and others. The minister also plans to create a compulsory reading list of books by St. Martiners and about St. Martin, which our students will be tested on in national exams.
“A new curriculum is, without doubt, critical to our efforts at nation-building. This new curriculum will include subjects such as Music, Drama, Fine Arts, and Sports and would most likely require that we expand our current school hours. We are already in advanced discussions with the Ujimaa Foundation about collaborating in an experimental charter school, which will incorporate many of these ideas before they become the norm in the rest of our school system,” Arrindell said.

Tertiary Education
The ministry is also finalizing the tertiary education law as a means of setting standards for the tertiary institutions that operate here. While USM will continue to occupy a place of pride and the government will continue to work with the board of the foundation to make it a viable, sustainable center of higher learning with quality programs and faculty, the minister has said she will maintain a policy of promoting study in the region. Arrindell has already signed agreements with Johnson & Wales University and Monroe College for direct cooperation with USM and expanding the options students have for seeking higher education within the region. The effort at promoting regional studies is mean to ensure that students return and complete their studies on time.

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