Equity: The Key to improving education systems

We are in GSAT season. All across Jamaica families of grade six students are anticipating one more round of the GSAT examination. For many children, their future is tied to their performance on this exam scheduled for later this month. “Success” in securing a place in one of the top high schools in the country can significantly affect the trajectory of their lives. That fact is not lost on parents. Those with financial and other personal resources pull out all the stops to give their children the edge. The level of stress is significant on teachers, students and families, which is due in large part to the continued lack of equity in Jamaica’s education system.

When we look across the world’s successful education systems, it is clear that equity and quality are closely linked. Systems such as ours which maintain a dichotomy in the quality of education available to children of different socio-economic groups are unable to raise performance across the board. The most successful education systems are those which provide high quality instruction to all their students.

Systems, such as those in East Asia – Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Korea - manage to create this equity by providing high quality teachers through rigorous and comprehensive teacher training, delivered to some of their most academically gifted students. In addition, they have systems of mentorship built into their training programmes, which provide each new teacher with mentors who monitor their teaching and provide feedback on their classes, thus helping them to improve their practice. In Shanghai, teachers are part of research groups which collect data and use that data to continually develop, evaluate and innovate in the classroom. In fact, their promotion often depends on them publishing research in peer reviewed professional journals.

This almost singular focus on teacher quality has been shown to be the most important factor affecting student performance. The result is that the gap in performance between poor and non-poor children is smaller in these education systems compared to those that have systemic inequities. There is much for Jamaica to learn from these examples if we are to make good on our commitment that ‘every child must learn’.