After navigating yet another difficult academic year, public schools perhaps with a sigh of relief, shut business on December 10, 2021. COVID-19 has proved to be a real menace.
Schools have a history of battling with known traditional problems being the need for inspirational and effective leadership, strong, passionate and competent teachers, adequate provision of teaching and learning materials, additional classrooms, furniture, potable water and sanitary facilities. COVID-19 has established itself as a serious attention seeker.
It has therefore compounded the situation in schools. As a matter of necessity, reopening of schools is preceded by a thorough and comprehensive inspection of all learning institutions to ensure to adherence to COVID-19 protocols. This important and necessary exercise is causing a further strain on the already overstretched education budget.
However, the prosecution of the war against COVID-19 should not be allowed to distract attention from the real classroom issues. Achieving COVID-19 compliance should not be misconstrued as an end itself; rather it should be treated as a means to an end. Emphasis should be placed on raising the quality of the triangular relationship between teachers, students and content (instructional core). Any shift from these three vital elements would amount to tinkering at the edges. At all times the questions should revolve around what teachers are teaching and what learners are learning and how well are they are learning? COVID-19 or no COVID-19, every school still deserves a good principal and every child is worthy of an effective teacher in the classroom. COVID-19 should not be used as a pretext to relegate into the background issues that have bedevilled schools over the years.
When thinking of school readiness, the system should cast its net wide to cater for COVID-19 compliance and readiness to deliver quality classroom instruction. When assessment of readiness to teach is made, there should be a deliberate effort to deal with issues connected with teaching and learning. Academic issues requiring immediate attention before reopening are as follows:
1) checking effectiveness of leadership and management (how well is the principal doing in terms of deployment of teaching staff, team building, budget utilisation and identification of teachers for professional development). Further the leadership should demonstrate evidence of use of data for decision-making.
Although schools are always swimming in a pool of data, research has shown that schools hardly rely on evidence-based decision-making. This results in a situation where schools find themselves dealing with imaginary and perceived problems. There is need for capacity building to improve data collection, storage and retrieval. Absence of readily available reliable and accurate data is contributing to the problem of academic underachievement. Appropriate data use can play an important role in raising academic achievement levels.
2) Quality of teaching, learning and assessment (utilisation of teaching and learning materials, variety of teaching strategies, frequency of learner assessment and feedback and frequency of home work.
3) Personal development, behaviour and welfare of learners (is there order and discipline, how well is the pastoral care doing? Is the school having any impact on learners in terms of shaping their behaviour in and out of the classroom? Schools must be seen to be doing well in terms of these criteria before being given issued a licence to resume business. The Christmas recess offers schools, regions and the central ministry a golden opportunity to go back to the drawing board and rethink strategies.
The search for an effective strategy should be an interminable and ongoing process. There is need to chart a new course. The game of business as usual is not carrying learners anywhere. Change begins with an honest admission that things are not working as planned. This calls for a serious introspection on the part of all role players.
There is need to interrogate how well regions and central ministry are carrying their supporting functions? It is important to learn from experience. In their book, ‘Strategy in Action’, Rachel E. Curtis and Elizabeth A. City underscored the value of continuous learning. “Be a learner: the success of strategy depends on your making of smart bets, learning from the work and then shaping and refining it accordingly.” Schools often commit the grave mistake of repeating and reordering wholesale past strategies even when there are no clear signs of improvement. No strategy should be static. Strategies must adapt and evolve to address emerging challenges.
The system should be amenable to new ideas. One novel idea which should be considered is deployment of master teachers to support teaching and learning. Master teachers are subject specialists (coaches) with extraordinary teaching abilities and there should be identified and deployed to take care of a cluster of schools.