Peter Espeut | Underfunding means poor education
It's back-to-school time again, and parents, students and teachers are in the throes of settling down into the routine of the new school year.
But we all know that this is not the most stressful time in the annual school cycle; that dubious honour goes to the time when the results of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) are released, and the few weeks afterwards when parents and guardians scramble to try to get their children transferred into a 'good' high school. I know principals, board chairmen, and clergymen who won't answer their cell phones during this period.
Fifty-five years after political Independence, there are wide differences in quality between Jamaican high schools. Using the rankings produced by Educate Jamaica, in 2017, only nine schools out of 90 had 95 per cent or more of their students pass five or more CSEC subjects, including mathematics and English (one school had 100 per cent and another had 99.99 per cent). Of these, only one is a government school (MoBay High, founded in 1935 by the British colonial government), five are church schools, and three are operated by private trusts.
A total of 18 schools had 90 per cent or more of their students pass five or more CSEC subjects. Of these, only two are government schools (MoBay High and Belmont Academy near Bluefields, Westmoreland, the latter built by the Government in 2009 and designated a centre of excellence).
The next highest-ranked government schools are St Jago High (28 with 79 per cent passing), Herbert Morrison High in Montego Bay (29 with 76 per cent passing), Denbigh High near May Pen, Clarendon (31 with 74 per cent), Jamaica College (39 with 64 per cent), and Ferncourt High School in Claremont, St Ann (40 with 63 per cent). Mona High ranks 44 with 52 per cent of their students passing five or more CSEC subjects, including mathematics and English.
Of the top 40 Jamaican high schools, 25 (62.5 per cent) are church schools, eight (20 per cent) are trust schools, and only seven (17.5 per cent) are government schools. Only one of the latter falls within the Kingston Metropolitan Area. The vast majority of the government high schools rank in the bottom 50 per cent in performance.
Is it any wonder that many parents consider placement of their children in government high schools especially upgraded secondary schools - to be tantamount to blighting the future of their children?
Reasons for difference
Why is the Government's track record in secondary education so poor? I would like to suggest three reasons.
Let's begin with school boards. Church/trust schools select their school boards, and send the names to the ministry for ratification. The persons placed on the boards of public schools are generally of lower ability in terms of management skills and experience, and they are often guided
by political rather than pedagogical considerations.
Second, the teaching and administrative staff of church/trust schools are often highly dedicated and motivated church members and/or past students; often they are clergymen, deaconesses or vowed nuns. Church schools are usually guided by philosophies of education that strive for academic excellence with high moral values. Public schools are often not guided by a strong philosophy of education, and it is not unknown for politics to creep into the process of selecting academic and administrative staff.
And third, church/trust schools spend more money per student in the delivery of their curriculum. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.
A few years ago, UWI economist Dr Peter-John Gordon determined that it costs about J$65,000 (or about US$505) per year per student to provide a proper secondary education. The Government boasts that it provides a subvention of J$19,000 (about US$150) per year per student. This is only 29 per cent of what is required to fund good-quality secondary education.
Church and trust schools with better teachers and better school management are better able to raise the shortfall of J$46,000 (US$355) per student per year to deliver good academic results, and keep their rankings high; and their strong value-based programme results in better disciplined and well-rounded students.
There is no such thing as 'free education', and cheap education is poor education. Right now, only those already better off can afford their children good-quality secondary schooling. If we love the poor, if we want prosperity for the poor, then the Government must make up the shortfall for those who cannot afford it.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a rural development scientist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.