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Owen Speid is president of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA); he was elected to the position last August. His career has been teaching at the primary school level.

In a recent survey, the vast majority of school principals polled thought he was doing a poor job as leader and had a poor attitude towards teachers: as reported by NationwideRadioNews, ‘Eighty-two per cent of those polled say Speid’s attitude towards school leaders is poor…But. to drive home their discontent, 85-per cent said they would support the formation of a new union to represent school principals.’ That’s damning.

I’ve never met him, but I’ve seen and heard him a few times; I have no personal animosity towards him. But, let’s call a spade a Speid, if I can play on words.

His oral delivery is not speedy and he has a hard time actually answering a question, clearly, even with constant probing and urging him to do so, as shown last night. He’s also not comfortable when interrupted; career built on not having to tolerate that from primary school kids, I suspect. 

I think he has some bizarre and worrisome views about schools and education. I heard another last night.

He was a panelist on #TVJAllAngles in a discussion on the recent court judgement regarding a primary school child and her locked hairstyle. It was not an impressive performance. Perhaps, the most distressing thing was how Mr. Speid views the role of schools in setting rules for students. In a nutshell, he believes schools should teach children to conform to the current prejudices of their society: “It’s safer to do that until you get the cultural change in society.” (How that change will occur is worth considering, if each generation is being urged to conform to the current prejudices.) So, things like banning certain hairstyles would ‘better prepare’ children for the real world prejudices they will find when they graduate. If you think I’m misrepresenting him, listen to his own words:

By contrast, one should note the concerns and views of Paul Hall, Principal of Tarrant High School, an institution that has seen a remarkable turnaround in scholastic achievement and outlook under his leadership. It’s clear why: he believes that schools should focus on educating children for opportunities in the world. As reported by the Gleaner in 2018:

‘In 2013, 240 students were placed at Tarrant based on their performance in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), and 100 were transferred to other schools by their parents before the first day of classes. Today, the school is on the upswing, graduating students excelling in external examinations, winning multiple competitions and being far from the violence which marred its reputation.’

The principal has introduced a range of technology to improve teaching and introduced subjects like robotics and a ‘male empowerment’ series to focus on the problem of why boys are faring poorly in the education system, ‘which sought to motivate the boys and to change how they view the world’.

Hall’s concerned that most schools are graduating children with no qualifications; that their focus on things like dress and attire is misplaced when they should be focusing on how to get children to learn better. 

These are radically different outlooks on display. I know which I prefer.

I understand the JTA has already elected a new president, who will take office later this month. God, Speid!