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ON MAKING RESEARCH MATTER MORE

PRESENTATION BY PROFESSOR TREVOR MUNROE AT SHORTWOOD TEACHERS’ COLLEGE, ANNUAL RESEARCH CONFERENCE, APRIL 25, 2013 “RESEARCH MATTERS: ENHANCING SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT THROUGH STRATEGIC ACTION RESEARCH”

‘ON MAKING RESEARCH MATTER MORE’

 

May I begin by congratulating the leadership of Shortwood Teachers’ College for sustaining your Annual Research Conference, particularly Principal, Dr. Christopher Clarke.

The theme of your Conference:  “Research Matters:  Enhancing School Improvement through Strategic Action Research” cannot be more timely.  Jamaica and Jamaicans, all of us in 2013 and beyond have got to improve; we must demonstrate improvement on a wide front – at the household level in how we deal with one another, particularly how we speak to one another, at the work place in our attitude to work in our various institutions; the Courts, the Parish Councils, the Parliament and of course in our educational training institutions at all levels.  Improvement is not an option, it is a necessity.  Reform in all aspects of our life is a call that has to be answered.

There could hardly be a more appropriate platform in which the call to reform can be made than that of Shortwood Teachers’ College.  I say this because the very circumstances, the very cradle of your birth some 128 years ago was formed part  of widespread social, economic and political reforms aimed at moving Jamaica away from the inherited status quo, then marked by the vestiges of slavery, abolished a little under 50 years before you were established.

Then and even more so now, as we enter the 2nd 50 years after Independence, Jamaica needs a comprehensive package of reforms and each Jamaican, including each researcher and each school community, needs to be a part of that reformation  if we are to, as we must, pull ourselves out of the deep rut in which we now and for some time have been in.

The rut in which we a people of such immense talent find ourselves stuck:

  • At number 85 (dropping two places between 2011/2012) of 186 countries in terms of Human Development globally;

  • A rut in which we have become \the most unequal country in the Western Hemisphere in terms of the income gap between the top and the bottom of our society;

  • In which we have declined for eight consecutive years in terms of global competitiveness, ranking now at number 97 of 144 countries;

  • In which we are third to last amongst the fifteen CARICOM states in the control of corruption;

  • In which productivity, instead of increasing, has declined at an average of over one percent annually for the last 40 years;

  • In which our murder rate, despite recent decline, places us among the countries with the highest homicide rate worldwide;

  • In which the data tells us that for the last ten years there was an average of one gun attack per day against members of the security forces;

  • In which for the last ten years an average of one member of the security forces was killed every month.

AND UNDERLYING ALL OF THIS, KEEPING US IN THIS RUT, IS THE UNDERPERFORMING EDUCATIONAL AND TRAINING SYSTEM.

We do not belong in this rut.  We are a people of exceptional talent, a people who have achieved and continue to achieve extraordinary  milestones in our development.

Not least of all the abolition of slavery and the achievement of Universal Adult Suffrage well before the United States; not least of all either in relation to our media, we rank in the top ten percent globally when it comes to the critical indicator of Freedom of the Press, ahead of the United States and the United Kingdom and other developing countries.

That is where we belong, in the top ten percent of mankind at every indicator, contributing to our own well-being and advancing the welfare of the whole human race.

There can be no question that in getting to where we belong and in getting out of this rut it is absolutely critical to accomplish what your Conference theme addresses “Enhancing School Improvement.”

We have long agreed on this, our national development plan VISION 2030 identifies eleven strategies towards achieving the national outcome “world class education and training.” Amongst these strategies are:

  1. Ensuring that children 0-8 years old have access to adequate early childhood education and developmental programmes;

  2. Enabling a satisfactory learning environment at the primary level;

  3. Ensuring that the secondary school system equips school leavers to access further educational training and/or decent work.

This national outcome and the strategies just indicated were agreed on and published four years ago representing a clear consensus between the political parties, the private sector, civil society and citizens in town hall meetings across the country.

Obviously, in achieving these strategies related to enhancing school improvement_ “Research Matters”.  The question then we must ask ourselves is why are we no further along the road in achieving these national outcomes.  A number of possible answers suggest themselves:

  1. That there is inadequate research output from our research institutions and researchers;

  2. That the research output and our researchers are doing good work but the research and researchers are not impacting the policy making community, including the public to whom the policy makers ultimately have to answer. Or rather are impacting less than special interests who want to keep things as they are

I suggest that a substantial body of research is being generated by our research institutions and by our researchers but this research needs to be even more targeted, given the costs which our people bear in funding the key research institutions and given the depth of the rut in which we find ourselves.

Costs, first of all. The 2012/2013 revised estimates allocated 13.2 billion dollars to tertiary education and 2.5 billion dollars to over 2,500 early childhood institutions.

The per capita expenditure by the Ministry of Education on the University of the West Indies for 2011/2012 was almost half a million dollars, for the University of Technology over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars and at the Teachers’ Colleges almost two hundred and forty thousand dollars per capita.

Compare that per capita expenditure with that on early childhood education – twenty one thousand dollars per capita. On primary education – under one hundred thousand dollars per capita and at secondary education one hundred and seventeen thousand dollars.  Clearly the tertiary institutions and researchers have a big obligation to carry out the research to justify these balances amongst different levels in the system.

By and large the researchers are doing good work.  The 30 Phd’s in the Teachers’ Colleges and the over 320 Phd’s at the University of the West Indies Mona are not idle.

Take UWI/ Mona for example,.  The online research database lists over six thousand seven hundred titles, that is, whole books, book chapters, journal articles, reports, electronic citations of conference proceedings generated from research.  The Department of Education Studies at Mona ranks pretty high amongst departments and institutions with 180 titles.  Amongst these are research works relevant to school improvement.  I mention a few by way of illustration:

  • Integrating Technology Education:  The Primary School Curriculum (Halden Morris, 2000);

  • Improving Reading Comprehension across the Curriculum (Jossett Lewis-Smikle, 2003);
  • Dealing with Violence in the Classroom (Susan Anderson);

  • An Analysis of High School Students Performance on Five Integrated Science Process Skills (Yvonne Beaumont Walters etal, 2001);

  • Learning Styles as a Foundation of Instructional Activity (Tony Bastick, 2003)

And I could go on.  The point is this_ research is taking place.  Undoubtedly, the output could be improved, more importantly the output needs to be more precisely targeted in pointing the way forward for school improvement and for other areas of national life urgently demanding guidelines for transformation.

Having acknowledged this, it is nevertheless clear that there is a gap, even a disconnect between the quality and quantity of research, the impact on the policy making community and the outcomes that the research is intended to enhance.

Otherwise, how can we explain that with all this research the target of 100 percent literacy in the Grade Four Literacy Test by 2015 is still further away than we had wanted?  The current exam statistics show that in the last Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) 71 percent achieved mastery; among the boys this was 61 percent.  The question then is how can we urgently improve the transmission belt between the researcher, the research, the policy maker and the community to whom the policy maker ultimately answers?

 I suggest the following_ the research institutions and the researchers need to make a new quality and effort to get their research, their journal articles, their book chapters and their relevant publications to the technical, professional, administrative and political leadership.

Conversely, the technical, administrative, professional and political leadership in the educational system need to be much more in touch and familiar with the research which matters.  The crisis is too deep for the research which matters to be confined to online databases or to libraries of universities and teachers’ colleges.  A number of ways suggest themselves:

  1. The researchers themselves must be willing to take up positions in the policy and administrative systems.  There are many examples of this in Jamaica and elsewhere.  Professor Errol Miller, arguably our most prolific researcher on educational matters served as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education and as a Senator in Parliament.  From my own experience in the Senate I can tell you that research brought to bear on lawmaking can and does make a difference.

  2. Abroad there are numerous examples, Robert Reich, himself a Rhodes Scholar and Professor at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard, took up a position as Cabinet member_ Secretary of Labour_ in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

But for this to happen, the top policy makers need to more fully appreciate the value of top researchers in the policy making system.  Equally the research institutions in which researchers are employed need to give much greater weight in the assessment and promotion of researchers to public service. Researchers themselves need to step up to the policy-making plate more readily with their research

There is another way, arguably the most important of making research matter, not just to enhance school improvement, as important as that is, but generally to help drive societal development in the economy, in culture, in governance.

THAT IS, THE RESEARCHERS MUST PLACE GREATER PRIORITY AND THE RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS MUST MORE FULLY INCENTIVIZE TAKING RESEARCH DIRECTLY TO THE PUBLIC SO THAT RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS OF WHAT IS TO BE DONE CAN EMPOWER THE PEOPLE TO HOLD THE AUTHORITIES BETTER TO ACCOUNT AND TO COUNTER-BALANCE THOSE WHO, FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER, ARE STUCK IN THE OLD WAY, CONSTITUTE A FORCE AGAINST IMPROVEMENT.

In the Twenty First Century, right here in Jamaica, researchers have numerous media at their disposal to accomplish this task – columns in the print media, commentaries on the radio and television, electronic media, blogs on social media, documentary films, etc.

How many of the well over 400 PHDs in every field in our tertiary institutions are bringing their work to the people?  You would be hard pressed to find twenty on a regular and systematic basis.

This outdated ‘ ivory tower’ approach is entirely unacceptable and has to be urgently correctly if the good research being done is to really matter in getting us out of the rut, out of the crisis now afflicting so many aspects of Jamaican life_ afflicting the economy, growing at less than 1% per annum in per capita income for over 40 years, the personal security and safety of every Jamaican, the education system etc..

In developed economies and societies, the best, the most outstanding researchers are writing regular columns in the New York Times, in the Guardian bringing their research work to public at large.

Take but one example, the Professor, now at Columbia University, Joseph Stiglitz.  He received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001.  He is a full time professor and researcher with 40 honourary doctorates and eight honourary professorships; author of ten books, yet he finds it necessary to write regularly for the most influential newspapers in the United States. Paul Krugman who received he Nobel Prize in 2008 is another example.

Our own, the late Professor Carl Stone_prolific author, outstanding researcher and first class teacher, made time to bring his research to the public through regular columns in the Gleaner. We researchers need to do more along these lines.  The Heads of research institutions need to give more weight to public scholarship, otherwise we shall continue in a situation where the research which matters does not matter.

If I can conclude with an example close to home.  The department which tops the list of titles in the University of the West Indies, Mona online research database is the Department of Government.

Yet, can anyone doubt that among the deepest crises which we face is the crisis in governance. Clearly the research there needs to matter more in improving governance. Researchers, policymakers, and the public we each have to demand that the link be more robust between research done and solutions applied.

I wish your Conference the very best and have every  confidence that the outcome shall contribute to  making research matter, to advancing this mission of bringing research to the people and the people to research.