Address to the Nation for the 2018 – 2019 academic year

DPP Shawn Richards, Minister of Education

Fellow Citizens and residents, good day.  As the Minister of Education, I address you as the 2018 – 2019 academic year gets started.  I greet you warmly on this occasion and wish to share with you what we have accomplished in the Ministry of Education and what we can anticipate during this new school year.

This year, the school year began with officers from within the Ministry of Education being present at each government owned primary and secondary school during the First official assembly, to deliver what is termed a key message to students and teachers.  This is the new normal within our Education system.  It began in 2016 with the four (4) keys to success. In 2017, our key message to students was ‘We believe in you, you can do it”.  And this year’s key message is, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me’.   This message is designed to inspire all within our schools to see themselves as being integral to what is happening in their lives, the classrooms, the schools, their communities and our nation. We wanted our nation’s children in particular, to be ever mindful that whatever good thing they want for themselves can be attained by them applying themselves diligently. With this key message, If it is to be, it is up to me, we want our teachers and parents to be reminded that we all have the responsibility to ensure that we inspire the nation’s children to greatness and equip them to attain such. I therefore challenge all of us – parents, teachers, families, principals, other ministry officials and the wider citizenship – to embrace our respective responsibility to help mould impressionable minds and shape the characters of the youth in our Federation.

This is the critical task of all of us, and it is certainly the calling of all who choose to be teachers in our nation’s classrooms. We know that it cannot be stressed enough that teachers play a truly significant role in the shaping of the nation’s future. Let me, at this juncture, welcome to the teaching fraternity all the individuals who have secured employment as teachers for this school year. As I affirm this importance choice of yours, I congratulate you for being selected to join the noblest of professions. I wish you all the best in the journey ahead. I charge and challenge you to strive to build the capacity of the school to which you have been assigned. Strive to be an asset to the staff, students, parents and community you now serve.

To those who worked within our schools over the past year and years, thank you greatly for the tremendous job that you do collectively towards educating the nation’s children. Many of our youth have worked selflessly and sacrificially, giving quality service to advance the cause of education. Many of you are leaving a legacy of hard work, dedicated service and high standards. And for this, I express profound thanks to you for being model educators.

Last year, the Ministry of Education began to seriously demand that all students who enrol in secondary school should complete all five forms and thereby be given the opportunity to improve their lives’ chances by all being registered to sit overseas examinations. Despite concerns regarding how such a decision would impact school and national pass rates, we urged schools to allow all form 4 students to advance to form 5 and register for CSEC examinations. And the outcome of this decision has been quite encouraging. We saw increases in not only in the students registered for overseas examinations, but also an increase in the nation pass rate. To the teachers who were committed to this directive and who helped students to taste the sweet flavour of success in overseas examinations, I say tremendous thanks to you.  Thank you for working hard with your students. And to all students, I remind you to show utmost gratitude to all teachers who have invested in you and thereby enabled your success.

To all teachers, especially those who, during the last school year, have not given of their best or what the job clearly requires, I urge you to improve your last year’s performance this year.  Let this year’s key message- If it is to be, it is up to me– encourage you to be, and to give, your best in your jobs in this area of national service. Teachers, I implore us all to aim to inspire hope, even in those of your students who, on first encounter, may seem hopeless: Strive to be that teacher who helps students to pursue excellence, and achieve their goals. I urge you to protect the academically and socially vulnerable among us, and to do all in your power to be better as we work together towards another successful school year.

There is much to celebrate in the nation as it relates to Education if we recognize that education is much more than teaching and learning.  Allow me to give a summary account of our work in education. As you may recall, the Ministry of Education launched its sector plan for 2017 – 2021 under the theme: Education for all: Embracing change and securing the future. This plan is the blueprint for the Ministry of Education and we have been working to ensure that all of our major activities are consistent with the objectives of the 2017-2021 Education Sector Plan.

We have three major policy goals/ areas of focus and I would therefore report to you consistent with these areas:

The policy goals are

1. Improving equitable access to and participation in education at all levels;

2. Strengthening the quality and relevance of education at all levels to improve learning outcomes;

3. Enhancing governance, planning, and management to improve efficiency and effectiveness throughout the sector

1. Improving equitable access to and participation in education at all levels:

We are continuing in our quest to improve children’s access to and participation in education from Early Childhood to the end of the Secondary level. Besides continuing to train early childhood practitioners and increasing the monitoring and evaluation of early Childhood centres to ensure their compliance with local standards, the during this school year, we will be taking more steps to help us get closer to ensuring that there is universal Early Childhood Development. It is also worthy of note that during the recently concluded annual summer workshops for educators, teachers in both public and private centres received training in First Aid. We continue to work to improve the quality of the service that is delivered in the Early Childhood Sector.

At the primary level, to eliminate dietary deficiencies as factors that impact students’ participation in their education, we continue to review the School Meals Feeding Programme with a view towards improving the nutritional content of all meals that are served. We are embarking on a four week rotation of the menu with a bid to include more fruits, vegetables and fruit drinks while reducing the amount of rice and processed foods especially tinned foods. Throughout a collaborative plan with the School Farm, more local foods, more of what we call ‘grung food’; and more fish and meat would be on our children’s lunch plates.  This action we deem very necessary as part of our response to eliminate obesity and non-communicable diseases among our people.

At the Secondary level we continue to pursue enabling more teenagers to have access to and participate meaningfully in secondary education through to Form 5. This position was further reinforced with secondary school management teams when they were engaged on strategies that can be pursued at the school levels to keep more students through to Form 5. Furthermore, during the summer workshops in both St. Kitts and Nevis, sessions were held for school managers on developing data-driven school improvement plans that are linked to the Education Sector Plan. And there would be follow-up sessions throughout the year to support the monitoring and reporting of School Improvement Plans.

At this point, I am very pleased to share of a new way that the Ministry of Education has been pursuing equity of access to quality education for students with special needs. Just this week, we demonstrated our firm commitment to the expansion of Special Education Services, to support families with children affected by autism. On Tuesday, 4th September, we held the official opening ceremony for the St. Kitts Spectrum Services Centre, commonly called the Autism Centre. This is very bold initiative has been possible because of many partnerships. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to the very persistent and passionate Dr. Sheryl Rosin, a certified autism specialist, who has forged many partnerships locally, regionally and internationally to support the St. Kitts Spectrum Services Centre. I must register our appreciation to the many individual and corporate partners who made this centre possible.

 

In the area of our second policy goal, strengthening the quality and relevance of education at all levels to improve learning outcomes, there is much to share.

 

aThe thrust to establish quality teaching and learning standards continues. In this area, there would be a consultancy, due to start in November 2018, to enhance the national curriculum and assessment.

 

aYou would recall that there were changes to the 2018 Test of Standards where tests were only administered at the grades 4 and 6 this year.  This approach aligns with the Ministry’s thrust to implement key-stage assessments every other year in primary school, beginning at kindergarten.  Further, support will be given throughout the school year to strengthen school and classroom level assessments for all grades, and especially those not taking Test of Standards.

 

 

aAt the secondary level, work is also being done to build capacity in assessment in the classroom and at Ministry of Education levels. A training programme in classroom assessment was held during the Summer Workshops for secondary school teachers and Curriculum Officers in St. Kitts and Nevis.

 

aGreater attention was given to the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S.T.E.M.) during the last academic year. This resulted in almost all of the primary schools holding intriguing S.T.E.M fairs. This year, actually for the 8th & 9th November, the Ministry of Education will be having its National S.T.E.M fair at the Independence Square in Basseterre. I therefore take this opportunity to encourage the general public to come out on 8th and 9th November to see what great things the students and teachers are producing in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

 

aMajor progress that is being made at the School Farm to support the delivery of Agricultural Science in both primary and secondary schools, to support the School Meals Programme, and to ensure its efficient functioning. Apart from their continued success with monitoring of the activities for CSEC Agricultural Science, there is a greater effort and results with primary schools in the areas of the delivery of agricultural science at that level and the improving of their gardening potentials. The yield of the School Farm continues to support the School Meals Kitchen, the supply of local produce at supermarkets and other entities, and are shared as contributions to non-profit organisations.

 

aThe Ministry of Education is certainly committed to creating competent and relevant students. This will continue to be the focus of schools as they are now required to function within the ‘Effective Schools Framework’ which emphasizes ensuring that every child, in every classroom, has access to quality and engaging instruction in a physically and emotionally safe environment that is responsive to their needs. Additionally, through the Caribbean Development Bank Grant for the Enhancement of Technical and Vocation education, we will see major improvements in schools as we pursue improving students’ competence in technical and vocational education. It is from this premise that I assured that during this academic year the following will occur through the TVET Secretariat:

 

•delivery and installation of over USD $1.5 million worth of and ICT equipment, and tools to enhance instruction in the areas of Building and Furniture Technology, Hospitality, Garment and Fashion Designing, Agriculture, Welding, and Automotive and Electrical Engineering

•rehabilitation of TVET spaces in all high schools in St. Kitts

 

•the commencement of major civil works at the Advanced Vocational Education Centre (AVEC) in St. Kitts and the Gingerland and Charlestown Secondary schools in Nevis

 

•training for TVET Instructors in Differentiated Instruction and Competency- Based Education

 

•ongoing training and certification of Assessors and Verifiers for CVQ

We remain mindful that the quality of students that our schools’ produce is fractionally dependent on the calibre of teachers who staff our schools. It is from this awareness that we continue to find ways to support the professional development of our teachers. We have sponsored Principals and their Deputies participation in a Supervisory Management Course through the University of the West Indies. We have paid for a class to benefit employees who needed to secure passes in CSEC Mathematics. We sponsored the participation of a selected number of school administrators in regional training in transformational leadership. Now, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies, and through the Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College, we will launch, on 20th September, a Programme of study leading to the attainment of a Master’s in Education degree in either Educational Leadership, School Counselling or Language & Literacy Education. Teachers who are interested, can take advantage of the opportunity to complete their Masters’ degree in 15 months. Further, the Ministry of Education has pledged its support by committing to pay 50% of the tuition for each qualifying employee.

Also in the area of supporting capacity building for teachers, in the area of Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET), the Ministry of Education through a Caribbean Development Bank grant, continue to offer scholarships in critical need areas in TVET. For this academic year, four individuals who have received scholarships under the TVET Enhancement Project, are already at their respective campus in Canada, Jamaica and Guyana, pursuing degrees in Construction Technology, Agriculture, and Apparel and Garment Management. This brings to total six nationals of St. Kitts and Nevis who, having received funding under the TVET Enhancement Project, they will return to the Federation to teach their TVET related subjects when they have completion of their studies.

The aforementioned areas of supporting capacity building for teachers are rooted in my Ministry’s commitment to enhancing teacher quality.

Beyond building capacity among teachers, the Ministry is taking actions towards Professionalising the Teaching Force. Teacher quality will also be further promoted through a recent commitment from the Organization of American States (OAS) to the Ministry of Education.  This partnership with O.A.S allows us access to a grant of US $90,000.00 to undertake a project towards professionalizing the teaching force. We have also secured the commitment from UNESCO to assist in development of an overarching National Teachers’ Policy that will provide, inter alia, (a) the legal and operational framework for establishing a National Teaching Council (NTC) with regulatory oversight for the teaching service. The framework is transitioning from the current model where persons can enter the teaching profession without pedagogical training, to a pre-service model where teachers would have had to secure training and licences to be eligible for teaching in our schools. The model that we are working towards, will bring into sharp focus the mechanisms needed to implement i. professional standards for teachers, ii. a continuous professional development framework, and iii. a relevant system for reviewing and appraising teachers.    At the heart all of these initiatives is the commitment to ensuring that we improve teacher quality, and align our practices with international standards so that we can, not only attract but also retain teachers of the highest calibre in every classroom.

Purposefully we are also working to improve in the area of our third policy goal: Enhancing governance, planning, and management to improve efficiency and effectiveness throughout the sector.

In the area of Knowledge Management for Decision-Making, we are giving schools more resources to make this a reality. For example:

To support improved data management at the school level and facilitate data submission requirements, all public primary and secondary schools will receive at least one computer for administrative purposes before December, 2018. Throughout this academic year, additional computers will be purchased and deployed to schools for resource management.

Further, OpenSis, a student information system that is to be accessible to students, parents and teachers, continues to be cemented as a tool for data management to inform decision making. Thus, training for OpenSis continues and more schools would be brought into the system this school year.

The Education Management Information System is working to complete a 2015/16 and 2016/17 statistical digest. When this is done, our MoE will be the first in the OECS to produce such a digital education statistical digest.

At this juncture, I also want to publicly express gratitude for all the private and public partnerships that have enabled us to do great things in the Ministry of Education. There are many partners that have been, and continue to support education from early childhood through to post-secondary education, and for this we are truly grateful. Christophe Harbour for example, would have outfitted all early childhood centres in St. Kitts and Nevis with fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine assisted with the upgrade of computer labs in several primary schools. TDC and the Fisherman’s Wharf and other corporate entities gave strong financial, resource and technical support to Early Childhood Child Month events. Ross University supported the creation and marking of Safe School Zones in all school communities around the island of St. Kitts. To all corporate partners of the Ministry of Education, we applaud the magnanimous support that contributed to our success during the last academic year, and we welcome more support and partnership with Education because we know when you invest in Education, you touch the entire nation.

Additionally, as the Ministry of Education has received to support its goals, it has also given to support many school initiatives as well as many sporting, cultural and humanitarian efforts.I wish to single out two significant events supported by the MOE. In June the St. Kitts Teachers Union (SKTU) athletic team’s participation in the C.U.T in Bermuda was made possible with a $70,000 grant to the SKTU. I understand that the team returned 7 Gold, 9 Silver and 12 Bronze medals. Then, with the assistance of $30,000 from the Ministry of Education, the CFBC Robotics Team did the federation proud again when five students competed in the International Robotics Competition in Mexico in August. The team advanced to the semi-finals and increased its medal count from 4 in 2017 to 6 in 2018. Congratulations are certainly in order to the SKTU Athletic Team and the CFBC Robotic Team.

 

Before I close, let me say a few words with respect to the Support for the Advancement of Further Education (SAFE) programme. I am pleased to report that the SAFE project continues to provide substantial financial assistance to students at CFBC, AVEC and the Nevis Sixth Form College. Registration and examination fees, as well as a stipend of $250 per month from September to June are made available to all students who are accepted to the programme. At the end of the project, an Annual Incentive of $1000.00 is paid to each student, whether SAFE recipient or not, who attains 2 or more CAPE subject passes at grades 1 and 2. So far for this year, in excess of $800,000 has been spent on the SAFE project.  The invaluable contributions of SIDF, the Social Services Department, the Department of Youth, the 4 C’s, the Treasury Department and the Ministry of Finance are greatly appreciated.

Finally, I want to publicly commend the staff of the Ministry of Education for the hard work that has yielded us so many successes in the past year and that will keep us on track with our strategic plan. Teachers, auxiliary staff, school administrators and other Ministry of Education personnel, be assured that your good work do not go unnoticed. Your devotion to duty stands out.  Your impact in shaping and enriching the minds of the young and toughing the hearts and souls of the nation’s children is felt beyond the walls of our classroom. It is from this awareness that I am pleased to be the Minister of Education, in a Ministry where I believe some of the most diligent, dedicated, selfless and productive civil servants can be found.

Parents, teachers, community, corporate society, we are all partners in grooming the next generation of citizens. Let us be ever mindful of the profound responsibility we hold to our nation and to our God for the lives of our young people. Mahatma Gandhi has been noted to say that we should, “Be the change you which to see in the world”. Improvements in our schools and society begin with our individual and collective choices. Better is indeed possible and we at the Ministry of Education are in earnest pursuit of it. Through continued hard work, collaboration and committed service, let us all embrace the changes and strive to secure even greater personal and collective successes during the academic year 2018-2019. Remember, if it is to be, it is up to me and you and every one of us.

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