Chief Executive Officer and Chief Inspector of the National Education Inspectorate, Maureen Dwyer.
Photo: Contributed

The National Education Inspectorate (NEI) has implemented several strategies to ensure that the inspection of schools to assess the quality of learning and the provision for learning in Jamaica’s schools continue.

This was stated by Chief Executive Officer and Chief Inspector of the NEI, Maureen Dwyer, during an interview with JIS News.

“We are concerned about accountability, about excellence and the extent to which the educational policies are meeting the needs of all the learners, both at the primary and the secondary levels, especially during the coronavirus pandemic,” she says.

The NEI has developed a protocol which reflects the new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) during the period of the pandemic.

According to Mrs. Dwyer, when COVID-19 came along and forced schools into the virtual space, with limited face-to-face interaction or blended modalities to teaching and learning, the NEI had to modify its approach to the inspection process.

She, however, points out that as part of this approach, the Inspectorate undertook research that involved several jurisdictions outside of Jamaica.

“We made contact with schools in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, the Cayman Islands and Malta, whom we invited to our zoom meetings. We dialogued to see what they were doing. Like us, they were looking at gaps in their system, since they have similar settings as ours,” Mrs. Dwyer says.

Local key stakeholders were engaged as part the NEI effort to get a deeper understanding of what is happening on the ground and to ensure that everyone is part of the process to get the framework to a place to adapt to the changes.

Mrs. Dwyer says Principals from several schools across different socioeconomic spaces shared their experiences with the pandemic and what this mean for schooling, for them, their students and teachers.

“Because we did not want to narrow the experience of what is happening, we also surveyed several teachers, who told us of their experiences as teachers and also as parents managing a classroom from their home while they are managing their own children who were learning. The Chief Education Officer was also involved, but most importantly we spoke to a range of students from across the spectrum. At the end of the day when we finished conducting local-level research, we had a good sense of what was operating in the educational landscape,” she tells JIS News.

The NEI abides by the directives of the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and the Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Act, for adherence to national guidelines while in the field conducting inspections.

This includes wearing masks, washing or sanitising hands as often as possible, as well as practising physical distancing within the team room and the classrooms.

NEI inspectors in the field are also provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of face shields, disposable masks and gloves, and hand sanitisers.

For online observations, inspectors have access to lesson links before the lessons on the school’s learning management system and abide by the online protocols as established by the school and the NEI.

Mrs. Dwyer discloses that 90 schools are scheduled to be inspected by the end of the 2020/2021 financial year. To date, 12 have been inspected since the reopening of schools in the virtual space.

“There is no draconian or top-down approach to enforcement, but rather a big learning exercise where we look for the gaps and see how we can best support the education system. As an entity, we are concerned with schools improvement, excellence and the maintenance of quality in the system… quality does matter in a time of COVID-19,” she emphasises.

“We have observed some really heart-warming things out there in our schools. For example, a small school in St. Elizabeth, where they have internet troubles, but they are using WhatsApp so effectively, the dedication out there is so high. So, we are trying to share the best practices between schools”, Mrs. Dwyer adds.

Mrs. Dwyer says one of their inspectors reported that at a primary school in Clarendon, the teachers displayed such agility.

“They are in the Google classroom, children who were not able to get on, the teachers were managing them on WhatsApp, switching from Google to WhatsApp just to ensure that every child is reached. This also shows that they, too, are managing the digital space,” she says.

According to Mrs. Dwyer, the approach to inspection has being modified to include the new modality on which the schools operate, such as virtual, remote or blended.

A quality assurance entity, the mandate of the NEI is to assess the standards attained by students within the education system; report on the standards and make recommendations to inform improvement in outcomes and quality of provisions.

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