What council, Ruel?

What council, Ruel?

Former NCE board member says body does not exist

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Observer staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

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THE National Council on Education (NCE) to which Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid said he would refer his proposed code of conduct for educators and school boards does not exist, a former board member is arguing.

The former member, who asked to not be identified by the Jamaica Observer, said the board was dissolved last May and that none has been appointed since.

“So when the minister says he’s going to refer it [code of conduct concept paper] to the National Council on Education, there is no board. So there is no board and they had scrapped the National Council on Education. The staff members have been redeployed at the ministry. They were in New Kingston and them lock down the office and move everybody to the Ministry of Education, and therefore the level of independence cannot be there,” the former board member said.

“The National Council on Education should be responsible for the appointment of school boards, but the minister is the one now, along with his executive officers, signing off on those things. So there’s no board in place. So when the minister says he’s going to refer it to the National Council on Education, who is he referring it to? As far as I am concerned, until they repeal the National Council on Education Act, the board should be in place,” the former board member said.

Yesterday, attempts to get a response from Reid were not successful.

The State-owned Jamaica Information Service reported Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke as saying Government has identified 18 additional public bodies, including the NCE, that will be merged, reintegrated into parent ministries, or closed by September this year.

Dr Clarke reportedly made the announcement last month and said that this follows the initial 20 acted on under the Public Sector Transformation Programme.

“Under the rationalisation of public bodies, we are seeking to reduce the number of public bodies through merging entities that are similar in function, closing entities that have outlived their useful lives, divesting entities, and very importantly, integrating entities back into parent ministries where it is no longer necessary to have a separate body set up by Statute in Law to perform the function,” Dr Clarke is reported to have said during a programme update at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston on February 7.

Reid received backlash over the proposed code of conduct, which some said was an attempt to muzzle educators and school board members who disagree with ministry policies and criticise the minister.

The concept paper proposes a range of regulations that would effectively encroach on the right to freedom of expression among teachers and school board members who are politically active.

Reid has said that there is no regulation or guideline relating to teachers, principals and members of school boards engaging in political activity. This, he added, is an area that needs to be clarified with respect to conflicts of interest and the use of public property for political engagement.

The minister is therefore proposing that “a public meeting of the teachers’ union or any other such non-political forum” is an appropriate space, in his view, for politically active teachers or principals to criticise the programmes and policies of the Ministry of Education, rather than “in any media, including social media”.

He is also proposing that members of school boards not be allowed “to criticise the minister of education or Ministry of Education personnel in any public fora, including social media”.

Reid later stated that he would refer the matter to the NCE after strong objection from some quarters.

“The referral comes amid increased public discourse about a concept paper on the proposed code,” the minister said in a news release last week.

The National Council on Education is a statutory body within the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, which was formed to address a wide range of issues affecting the education process in a non-partisan and strategic way. It is also intended to contribute to greater community involvement in the management of educational institutions.

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