Sat | Nov 25, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Jamaica's educated elite

Published:Saturday | July 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Many Jamaicans, particularly those of us who were lucky to have made it to a tertiary institution to be counted among the 'educated elite', seem to be utterly clueless about the actual awful state of the education system in this country.

Apparently, there are people who believe that our education system is on par with some of the best in the world and, therefore, offers everyone an equal chance to learn and succeed. In their mind, this simply means that those who did not attain the highest level of education or, at the very least, five subjects were merely unambitious and did not have parents who cared enough to invest in their education. Rubbish!

Earlier this week, one of my friends, Lorenzo Smith, an educator at Hillel Academy, caused a bit of trouble on Facebook because of a quote he posted from an article by Times Caribbean published on July 6, 2017. The post said: "Among CARICOM nationals less than 15% of CARICOM nationals have tertiary education 66% have two or less CSEC subjects'. It was rather shocking to see how people reacted, calling it 'fake news' because somehow their privileged, well-resourced high school is the standard across the country and region.

I won't waste time debating the article. I am more interested in the idea that our education system is so good and there is no way so few people could have attained the minimum number of subjects required to advance in the system.

Apparently, the countless news reports of teachers, parents and students complaining about the shambolic state of classrooms and lack of resources and materials to ensure children learn and can achieve their fullest potential completely missed them. The predictable news headlines from mid-August to mid-September also missed them as they sipped mimosas and bragged #JamaicaNice and #ILiveWhereYouVacation. And they certainly have not read labour market reports that highlight that a significant portion of the labour force in our country has no certification.

I honestly don't know how we can be so clueless as the supposedly educated people on whom this country has to depend. I probably shouldn't be as surprised, though, since we the 'educated elite' love to boast about how we do not watch news because it's overwhelming. Pity those who have to live it can't escape/ignore it like the rest of us.

Well, my privileged friends who fortunately had a good education and hold at least one degree, you should know this truth. A significant number of students leave fifth form unable to matriculate to sixth form or college, and it's not their fault. The 2017 Educate Jamaica ranking reveals that only 46 of the over 150 secondary schools across the island had 50 per cent or more of their students attaining five subjects, including English and mathematics.

You might also be keen to know that between 2005 and 2010, only 53 per cent of students sat four or more subjects, and around one in five of them left school without having sat at least one. A whopping 40 per cent of children do not complete secondary school and only one in four who complete has certification.

Forty-seven per cent of the 25,160 teachers do not have degrees. Only nine per cent of secondary-school teachers are qualified to teach grades 10-11 mathematics, and of the more than 150 secondary schools, only 14 offer students a 70 per cent chance of passing mathematics, and only 28 schools for English (See Prisms of Opportunity: A Report Card on Education in Jamaica by CaPRI).

You should give thanks you are among the few in this country to have attended one of the few 'good' public schools that offer their students a chance to pass at least five subjects or that you had the opportunities students in those schools had to become one of the exceptions.

It would do us well to interrogate the reasons for the underperformance of our students, including the quality of teacher training, support given to teachers and students, the curriculum and modes of testing, among others, considering that we typically spend a good amount of money on education as a percentage of GDP.

Who actually is benefitting from this? Certainly not the students in the classist system! It would make a world of difference if we make an earnest effort to be cognisant of the reality faced by the majority of Jamaicans.

- Jaevion Nelson is an advocate for human rights and social and economic justice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com, or tweet