Education: the development panacea?
What if, on that fateful day some years ago, the Ministry of Education had placed me at Camperdown High instead of Campion College?
What if I had attended a so-called 'technical' high school in the inner city instead of an iconic uptown institution for academically gifted (and a few highly privileged) children?
Interestingly, some of the brightest and most accomplished people I've ever known have been the products of schools my contemporaries and I were subconsciously indoctrinated to scorn, yet still most of us wouldn't 'risk' our children's future by 'experimenting' with these institutions despite supposedly knowing better.
Probably because we'd be ashamed to tell our friends that our child attends a school with no snob appeal; but also, and perhaps more important, because we know very well that in this country, the world is far from level, as sometimes indicated by the nomenclature of the institutions themselves.
The likelihood for success, using an academic measure, in so-called non-traditional high schools is not the same; the access to opportunities is not the same; the social and economic capital of the respective alumni associations is not equal; the state of respective school plant infrastructure is worlds apart; the respective school cultures, especially having to do with personal discipline, academic achievement and sporting prowess are glaringly dissimilar across the board.
And yet children are actively encouraged to grow where they are planted because some others have done so successfully despite it being evident the odds are stacked against them.
Schools of choice
That is why 'cow-bawling' is juxtaposed with elation every year when grade six placement results are announced, sometimes insensitively, in schools across the island. The children understand very well that attending the school of choice will directly affect their life trajectory, and a beating or ostracism for poor performance is a distinct possibility for many whose parents earnestly, and quite reasonably, believe the cycle of poverty and underachievement will be broken if their child is wearing the 'right' uniform.
My secondary educational experience was rich, rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and worthwhile. The environment was competitive, motivational and wholesome. The person I am today, and my own perspective of this country are direct results of the environment in which I was raised. Far from privileged, but certainly with access to the right combination of stimuli and opportunities to foster my personal and intellectual development needs.
I can look in the daily periodicals and name government ministers, leaders in business, and other 'topanaris' people with whom I share the same educational foundation, yet beyond the bragging and boasting, how many revolutionary ideas have I or my contemporaries contributed to national development?
Why are we still trying to figure out solutions for decades-old problems if it is that we are representative of the best and brightest, the cream of the crop, selected in infancy to achieve great things?
What have we really achieved?
I grew up with more Rhodes Scholars than most Jamaicans can imagine, yet so many things have remained the same so many years after our elite education was completed. Sure, the private sector is enriched, as are many of my old schoolmates themselves, but is it too early to ask whether this growing cadre of highly educated Jamaicans is or will be a transformative force for this country?
With more children sitting more subjects and getting more passes than ever before, why is hope for prosperity such a fleeting thing for so many? Is there a qualitative difference between my attaining eight CXC subjects in ones and twos at 15 years old and children nowadays who sometimes attain 14 CSEC subjects with all ones at 17 years old?
Is the child with two dozen subjects more useful to national development than the child with none at all? Is the latter child destined for a stereotypical, non-achieving life while the former child is on a trajectory for massive success?
What of children with special needs? What future can their parents imagine for them, since the majority will not attend a name-brand school and won't present a litany of subjects at the end of their time?
There seems to be something wrong with this Jamaican development dream; an ingredient must be missing.
How can it be that with far more qualified citizens than ever before, the country still isn't reaping the fruits of the investment?