Roadmap to an effective education system in Jamaica
The Jamaican education system, since independence, has seen its fair share of criticism. Much of this speaks to the inequality in access to the system and the inability to consistently produce skilled, productive, employable and competitive workforce.
At its core, any successful education system must produce well-rounded and qualified individuals who are able to function and contribute to all spheres of society and also be competitive in a global context. Given the continuously high youth unemployment rate, which, according to statistics, currently stands at approximately 29 per cent, it can be said that in some aspects, the education system is failing the youth in its efforts to adequately prepare them for employability.
To be clear, most of the teachers are doing the best they can, which is showing results the steady increase in passes in external exams; the high number of students accessing international scholarships; and the growing number of students who are interested in pursuing tertiary education.
But from a policy and legislative context, much more needs to be done to effectively bring Jamaica on par with those countries that have managed to create education systems that adequately prepare the youth for the rapidly changing global workplace.
The New Employment Opportunities (NEO) for Youth in Jamaica Project has done a series of technical proposals designed to strengthen the youth employability ecosystem coordination and articulation, and the following are a few of the recommendations, which fall under various areas, coming out of the proposals that provide a multifaceted approach to improving the current education system, with the goal of reducing youth unemployability.
Codify vocational and education training (VET) into law by repealing the 1957 Apprenticeship Act, preferably through the HEART Trust Act, and establishing a national apprenticeship system in law and in practise through a social compact among government, employers, and youth. The system would accommodate dual vocational programmes that combine classroom education and on-the-job training (OJT), leading to employment.
The apprenticeship programme must include a mentoring component to bridge the divide between a younger and an older generation, especially as youth make the school-to-work transition and are testing the labour market to identify an industry or sector more aligned with their interests and their competencies.
Research and Analysis
Improve labour market forecasting significantly. Skills shortages are a result of the disconnect between the education and training systems and the industries. There is need for convergence through quality labour market forecasting incorporating the views of the various industries.
Invest in more research and long-term evaluations in both the education sector and the labour market to result in data-driven education policies that coordinate with data-driven labour market policies.
Evaluations are expensive, but if a cost-benefit analysis were to be done, the investment in these evaluations could far outweigh the lost investment from continued implementation of policies that are not producing the desired results.
Build the capacity of the labour market information system (LMIS), the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, and HEART Trust/NTA to better forecast and anticipate skills demands, as well as develop synergies with other institutions to validate data and model outcomes.
Establish a youth employment task force, which consists of government stakeholders, industry representatives, NGOs - essentially, a public-private partnerships or social compact - and youth advocacy representatives. The task force must be very high level, reporting directly to the Office of the Prime Minister. The task force would be responsible for implementing a youth employment action plan.
These are just some of the recommendations outlined across three proposals, and if correctly implemented, would result in significant improvement in the quality of the education and training system, the lowering of youth unemployment, and would facilitate the closing of the quality gaps that currently exist. The proposals will be presented in full at a public-policy dialogue slated for later this year.
- New Employment Opportunities for Youth, executed in Jamaica by Youth Upliftment Through Employment (YUTE) Ltd, is part of the regional programme. NEO seeks to improve the human capital quality and employability of one million vulnerable youth across Latin America and the Caribbean by 2022.