Ronald Thwaites | Rethink CSEC strategy
Last week at a meeting asked for by the Economic Growth Council with the Council of Opposition Spokespersons, Dr Damien King shared his experience of visiting a new energy-producing site and noting the preponderance of foreign workers. This should not surprise us. And they are no doubt earning the foreign-exchange indexed wages that all Jamaicans long for.
Dr King's story was to illustrate that unless and until Jamaica's workforce achieves a global standard of education and training, whatever investments come are likely to benefit outsiders rather than our people.
The economy may grow, but for whom? Who benefits from jobless growth?
Realise, too, that the workers needed for 21st-century employment will have to match the levels of discipline, order, and productivity; the sound command of the English language; and an indispensable proficiency in mathematics, the physical sciences, and information technology, to be found in developed societies.
A robust discourse followed with the Economic Growth Council, but very little more was said about how to enhance productivity or reform education.
Relate all this with me now to the results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations released last week. This examination is the main platform for access to tertiary education and higher levels of workforce training.
The reality is that only 37 out of every 100 candidates achieved the five subjects, at best to include English and mathematics, required to advance themselves.
Clearly, urgent, radical changes in the education system are required if we really intend to achieve and sustain five per cent annual growth and real (not mouth-water, money-illusion) prosperity rather than persistent poverty.
The only way we can provide the highest-quality instruction and practice to all our students in language, mathematics, and some sciences during the coming academic year is to immediately commission our best teachers to offer the curriculum by lectures, demonstrations, and interactive sessions on all available virtual platforms.
The large majority of our students have access to smartphones, some type of computer, and cable or free-to-air television. These media offer the facility of replaying lessons and labs, and thus, to some extent at least, will overcome the inequality between the students exposed to good versus poor teaching or between those who can afford extra lessons and those who cannot.
Considerable work was done during the former administration towards broad-spectrum virtual education. I am confident that with sufficient commitment, full roll-out could be completed within six months.
Before leaving the Ministry of Education, I was approached by the two major telecommunication providers offering suites of virtual courses, both of local creation and borrowing suitable material from abroad.
True equity and quality in education will be advanced when all our children, mindless of economic status, can access the most interesting teachers, coaches, and motivators. This is much more cost efficient than spending huge sums on largely futile remediation.
And just think of the advertising potential for business sponsors when you have an interested audience of more than half a million young people and their families.
In addition, amid an overstaffed teaching profession, space should be found to bring back even a few retired maths and science teachers and a day-release volunteer programme for suitable persons in private enterprise.
Our schools need about 700 more well-trained specialists in these fields. They are needed now!
It will take three to five years for the scholarship awardees to be ready for the classrooms, and many more will migrate by then. A few days or even weeks of in-service workshops by themselves are proven not to make a difference.
And someone will have to explain what is the efficiency or equity in remunerating a great teacher in a scarce skill area the same as you reward a weak instructor in an oversubscribed field.
A former JTA president has suggested that a way round this vexed issue is to designate all good maths and science teachers as master teachers and so provide additional benefits.
The other urgent priority must be the strengthening of the early childhood sector up to grade four. Most of the maths and science teachers at this level do not have even CSEC certification in these subjects.
Weak foundations in the crucial subject areas inevitably cause compromised outcomes higher up the educational ladder.
The hundreds of JEEP teachers who at least had training-college certification have added competence to the infant and early primary grades at relatively low cost over the last three years. If they are discontinued, more of our children will, in a few short years, fill the ranks of this season's 63 per cent and more who 'graduate' without prospect of matriculation.
It need not be that way.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.