December 03, 2021: For the third time this year, the Hon. Jonel Powell, Minister of Education, Youth Empowerment, Sport & Culture, seized the international ministerial podium to articulate the innovative approach being adopted in scaling up the professionalization of the teaching community on the twin-island Federation.
The Minister also lauded the expertise and efforts of UNESCO in assisting St. Kitts and Nevis in achieving its ambitious goal of creating a national teachers council and a reformed accreditation policy for academic qualifications, at all levels.
He made these comments when invited by UNESCO to address the 13th Policy Dialogue Forum and governance meetings of the UNESCO International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 (TTF), taking place virtually from Kigali, Rwanda.
Jointly organized by the UNESCO TTF Secretariat, and the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Rwanda, the over-arching theme of this year’s policy dialogue forum was ‘Innovation in teacher policy and practice for educational recovery’ with particular emphasis on innovation in teaching and learning, initial and in-service teacher education and education policy.
UNESCO, a specialised UN agency based in Paris, imparting to Member States its expertise on education policy development, has provided St. Kitts and Nevis over the past five years, with penetrating guidance on important changes to its national education strategy. In 2016, the Federation was the only Latin American and Caribbean state to benefit from a UNESCO in-depth and independent review of the country’s education strategy, described by Minister Powell as “kick-starting the equally innovative policy changes”.
The joint UNESCO – Republic of Rwanda Forum focused on innovation as the engine of improvement in education, and as being critical for improving education quality for all learners. It underscored that these need to be at the heart of education policies and policymaking. The Forum brought together education ministers, stakeholders from around the world, both in-person and online, to discuss the complexities of the post-COVID era and identify how to ‘build back better’ and ensure that education systems harness and expand collective capabilities for innovation.
It is expected that the outcome of the Forum will generate policy recommendations for ministries, civil society organisations, international organisations and donors that support teachers, school leaders, teacher educators and policy-makers.
Speaking on a ministerial panel with fellow-education ministers, Minister Powell stated that ‘Innovation in teacher policy and practice for education recovery was very much prominent in St. Kitts and Nevis’ current work activities, adding “all progressing as a priority”.
But he stressed that St. Kitts and Nevis “didn’t wait until the devastating effects of the COVID pandemic struck us to recognise the need for and introduce a number of innovative changes aimed at improving the country’s education system, to upgrade the quality of training and undertake the professionalization of our cherished teaching force”.
Key priorities identified with UNESCO assistance since 2017 continue to be focused mainly on improving the quality of education, although there is still an urgent need to address school infrastructure. Other sector priorities mentioned by the Minister included strengthening curriculum relevance and workforce preparation; expanding access to quality ECD services and tertiary education; enhancing teacher effectiveness; professionalization of the teaching force, and establishing a comprehensive student support service framework for at-risk learners.
Minister Powell suggested that the COVID pandemic highlighted two key factors in policy terms: firstly, “the heightened risk of pre-existing shortcomings in cultivating a teacher-professionalization strategy”, and, secondly, “despite laudable attempts to digitalize the learning process, it cannot be a substitute for the pedagogical knowledge and skills imparted by the teacher. This is the basis for all quality education, regardless of how it is delivered.”
Whilst acknowledging the virtues of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a central pillar of sovereign innovative plans for education recovery, the Minister believed that small island developing states (SIDS) faced a different range of ICT challenges. While ICT arrangements replacing face-to-face learning were adopted by most Caribbean governments to support online distance learning, “the results” noted the Minister, “have been frankly mixed”. Part of the reason was attributed to online learning modalities being inaccessible to many children in the Caribbean sub-region, “notably children from poor and rural households.” As a result of inequitable access to the Internet offering online learning techniques, not to mention the lack of development opportunities in on-line teaching for teachers, “many children lost nearly a year of formal instruction”.
Central to the St. Kitts and Nevis Government’s Education strategy, said Minister Powell, will be the “building of innovation in teacher policy and practices to attain quality education for all, through a structured policy of professionalization of the teaching community”.
Nodding to the timely technical assistance input from UNESCO’s Taskforce on Teachers for Education, the Minister stated that St. Kitts and Nevis had embarked on the fundamental scaling-up of the professionalization of our teaching community to address the new challenges, “accentuated by the pandemic, but, as already mentioned, which were pre-existing”. “We have got to put these fundamental teacher professionalization principles, standards and procedures in place now. We cannot wait to react to a climatic situation or another pandemic due to viral infection to strike”.
He stressed the innovative nature of the Federation’s decision to establish a National Teaching Council to regulate the teaching profession in accordance with international best practices, embracing 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.”
The next immediate step, according to the Minister, with guidance again from UNESCO, would consist of operationalizing the functions of the National Teaching Council to include, determination, implementation, and periodic review of national teaching
standards, implementation of the teacher career path, fixing a national minimum teaching qualification, establishment and regular updating of the Teachers’ Register, licensing of teachers and school leaders, etc.
This will also call for innovative recruitment policies to be developed – “one that goes beyond the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and not always adapted to the cultural and the small pool of teaching talent of small island developing states, like St. Kitts and Nevis”.
Commented Ambassador David Doyle, St. Kitts and Nevis permanent delegate to UNESCO in Paris who assisted in securing the speaking role for the Minister:
“The consistent and assertive message delivered by Minister Powell in three UNESCO-hosted education events since early this year is that, ultimately, a strong emphasis must be placed on improving teacher quality. There is now a consensus amongst international education policy-makers that proper training and motivation of teachers have a direct impact on students’ learning outcomes and well-being, and that teacher quality is the single most important in-school factor linked to student achievement. “