Time to Budget for Education of the Poor
We have been doing ill to children from some of the poorest households where their education and development is concerned. Consequently, generations of Jamaicans have been trapped in poverty with little to no agency to improve their livelihood. They have essentially been living han' to mout' for decades.
The state of affairs is most embarrassing, disheartening and frightening, given that, ever so often, speeches, policies and programmes are laden with references to the poor and most vulnerable among us and the best of intentions to, inter alia, alleviate poverty, create better opportunities, and thereby make people's lives better. Our performance has, however, betrayed our intents.
Yes, I am aware there has been much progress over the years. It is true; poverty has decreased and more of us are educated and employed today than any other time in our history. However, we cannot ignore the fact that, despite our achievements, our education system post-emancipation, post-independence is seeming to be still educating to maintain a peculiar status quo where some of us are 'better' than others. Too many Jamaicans are illiterate and innumerate and too many of us leave secondary school without certification.
According to Caribbean Policy Research Institute (2013), nearly 40 per cent of children do not complete secondary school and only one in four who complete have certification. The vast majority of these children are from poor families in poor communities - sometimes born to parents who did not complete their education and/or were adolescent mothers. The shift school system has arguably disadvantaged many students. Many schools offer students very little chance of passing English and mathematics.
There are glaring disparities in the public-education system that we have either ignored or pretended are a matter of jealousy or too few committed past students contributing. There are blatant differences between schools in the Kingston Metropolitan Area and those outside of it and among traditional and non-traditional high schools in each parish. Sometimes, one can't help but wonder if a few of the traditional schools operate as sorts of quasi-private institutions with state funding. What was the point of changing the name of schools from secondary and comprehensive high if things seemingly remained more or less the same?
to what end?
For many years now, we boasted that we have achieved universal primary education, but to what end? Children were (and perhaps still are) leaving school illiterate and innumerate, yet they matriculated through the system as we cheered along. It's not very difficult for us to guess which and what type of schools some of the most hardened criminals in our country would come from. So much so that our concern when the police released that report over a year ago was more about reputation and data quality (than the fact that it confirmed our suspicions). The vast majority of students at our tertiary institutions come from a certain school and from families with a particular level of income and it doesn't bother us.
Why have we not held our leaders more accountable in this regard over the years? Why have teachers been so deafeningly silent about some of the dire challenges in the education system that have inhibited their performance and been to the detriment of our children's education? Why is there no dedicated advocacy outfit championing the right to education and highlighting its symbiotic relationship with poverty as well as how the system as it is marginalises students from low-income families? Why have we all not cared enough that the vast majority of our schools have and continue to fail us despite commendable investment over the years? Are we really that Ok with inequity in access and distribution of resources? Who is benefiting from the status quo?
I commend Minister Ronald Thwaites and former ministers of education for their contribution to improving the education system over the years. However, I am impatient with the way things are progressing and appalled by the resistance by some important stakeholders who are hell-bent on keeping us hostage in the status quo. It is time that we (do more to?) prioritise the education of poor and marginalised Jamaicans. This cannot become the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business if only a select few get to excel. Let us invest the money we spend on education wisely, and see to it that all principals and teachers are adequately trained and there are adequate services to support students' learning needs.