For the second time this year, Honourable Jonel Powell, Minister of Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of Saint Kitts and Nevis, has taken to the international podium to address a high-level Ministerial panel. This time, he has made an intervention at the opening ceremony to celebrate World Teachers’ Day on 5th October 2021.
His intervention focussed on the impact of Covid-19 on teaching, the role of teachers and what this experience has revealed to St. Kitts and Nevis in terms of future policy development.
The World Teachers’ Day event was collectively hosted by UNESCO, International Labour Organisation and UNICEF, under the theme ‘Teachers at the heart of education recovery’. Some 305 attendees, drawn from 193 UN member states, participated in the forum. This dedicated Education Ministerial session enabled Minister Powell to speak alongside fellow ministers from Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Cambodia.
In his opening remarks, Minister Powell noted that his intervention was especially meaningful as an education minister from one of the Small Island Developing States, ‘faced with the dual heavily-resourced challenges of aiming to vaccinate school children and ensuring a safe environment in which to continue their education’. He underscored that the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered widespread closure of schools and disruption of education systems across the Caribbean islands.
Referring to the UN estimate that more than 3 million children in Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to permanently drop out of school due to the pandemic, Minister Powell said that this is likely to affect the crime rates, with young men from poor households being the most negatively impacted.
The Honourable Minister explained that in place of face-to-face learning, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have been adopted by most Caribbean governments to support online/distance learning. However, he stated, the results had been mixed. “While Caribbean governments, like that in St. Kitts and Nevis, have introduced a range of online learning modalities, many children in our sub-region, notably children from poor and rural households, are not always able to access such facilities. Owing to inequitable access to the internet that enables online learning, and the lack of development opportunities in online teaching for teachers, many children have lost nearly a year of formal instruction.” On the matter of the lessons learned by education authorities from this Covid-19 disruption, Minister Powell stated that “Despite laudable attempts to digitize the learning process, it cannot be a substitute for the pedagogical knowledge and skills imparted by the teacher in the face-to-face experience. This is the basis for all quality education, regardless of how it is delivered.”
Central to the St. Kitts and Nevis Government’s 2017-2021 Education Sector Plan, Minister Powell stressed, was the building blocks of “strengthening the role of the teacher for attaining quality education for all, through a structured policy of professionalization of the teaching community.” Acknowledging the technical assistance of UNESCO to the Federation, he reported that the government has embarked on the fundamental scaling-up in the professionalization of our teaching force to address the pre-existing and new challenges provoked by the pandemic.
“We are poised to establish a National Teaching Council to regulate the teaching profession in St. Kitts and Nevis in accordance with international best practices. This will include professional registration of teachers, control of standards, and enforcement of a code of professional conduct. In time, this framework will put in place a professional licensing and registration as a quality assurance measure linked to teacher appraisal. Recruitment policies will also have to be reviewed.”
He commended Singapore, another SIDS, for unfolding a compelling education model for a comprehensive recruitment process: the selection being based on the candidate’s performance in 4 components – initial screening of academic qualifications, a literacy assessment, an interview and a continuous professional development programme. He stated that,“Given the size and remoteness of island states like St. Kitts and Nevis, and the resulting limited pool of teaching talent, that recruitment selection process will likely be adopted.”
To optimize the professionalization of the Federation’s teaching force there is a need to accompany teachers in their development by preparing them through meaningful training and mentored experiences and support teachers to improve instruction, to include on-line tuition. “Proper training and motivation of teachers have a direct impact on students’ learning and well-being. Teacher quality is the single-most important in-school factor linked to student achievement,” asserted. Minister Powell agreed with UNESCO’s repeated claim that quality teachers and quality teaching produces a product-mix resulting from robust leadership at the school level. To ensure strong leadership among school principals as well, the Minister said, “We are also concentrating on tooling-up even at the administrative level.”
In facilitating Minister Powell’s address at the UNESCO World Teachers’ Day Ministerial event, the Federation’s Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, H.E. Dr David P. Doyle remarked, “Since early 2020, St. Kitts and Nevis has developed partnership with UNESCO’s education programme team in delivering quality education, with an emphasis on accrediting professionalised teachers, cutting-edge teaching techniques and a new accreditation system of higher qualifications.”
In the past year and a half, St. Kitts and Nevis has secured UNESCO’s technical assistance, and funding, to upscale the professionalization of the teaching force and develop a modernised accreditation system and process covering high-level qualifications. These projects are being overseen by the St. Kitts and Nevis National Commission for UNESCO in Basseterre, under its Secretary General, Ms. Dorothy Warner.
This comes on the heels of the elaboration, with UNESCO’s guidance, of a National Sport policy framework, which is the subject of negotiation with the Commonwealth Secretariat for implementation of the recommendations.