Peter Espeut | And there arose a pharaoh who knew not Joseph
A coup is under way. But not a coup against the State, but a coup by the State - to take over schools owned and operated by churches and trusts in partnership with the Government.
The involvement of the Jamaican State in education, whether under colonialism or neo-colonialism, has not been exemplary. Jamaica's school system was pioneered by churches and private trusts that were interested in the welfare of those who had been slaves.
Only recently has the Government entered the business of establishing schools, but, generally speaking, of a much lower quality.
At Independence, Jamaica had 41 high schools, only five of which were owned and operated by the Government - 28 were church schools and eight were trust schools. Wanting to increase the numbers attending high school (especially from the lower socio-economic groups), beginning in the 1930s, the colonial government entered into partnership arrangements with the churches and trusts. The government would pay the teachers and provide a per-student subvention and, in return, would choose 95 per cent of the student intake.
The owners of the school would nominate the majority of the school board members (including the chairman) and the Government would appoint them. The school boards would hire teachers and principals, and the government would appoint them and pay them; owners did not have the right to appoint board members or teachers, and the government did not have the right to nominate.
The ethos of a church school is somewhat different to that of a government-owned and -operated school. Besides providing secular academic knowledge, the Church has a wider agenda. Speaking for Roman Catholics, the denomination of which I am a member, we have a mandate to form character, to develop all the facets of the whole person (physical, intellectual, social, cultural, moral, spiritual). This is what makes church schools special, and why even secular, anti-religious people want to send their children to church schools.
It is because of this special mandate that the Church wishes to remain in education, even though the Government might wish to take over the ownership, funding, and operation of the whole system. Government schools cannot do what church schools have been doing; this was recognised and written into the partnership agreement. The Government would cover part of the cost of delivering the total curriculum, and the church schools would have to find the rest. The owners of the schools would operate their own bank accounts, into which the Government would lodge their subvention payments.
The churches were expected to raise the funding to cover whatever the Government did not provide, either by asking parents for contributions, or by fundraising.
"And there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph" (from Exodus 1:8).
This partnership arrangement between the churches and trusts on the one hand, and the government on the other, cannot be varied unilaterally; it requires dialogue and renegotiation.
Breach of partnership
This present government has breached the agreement, and seems to be staging a not too subtle coup to take over the schools operated by the churches and trusts.
Last year, when I was appointed board chair for a rural primary school, I was advised that a new Ministry of Education policy directive required the Church to get permission from the Accountant General's Department of Jamaica if we wished to change the signatories on our school accounts. The owner of the school, through the board which it nominates, is accountable to the Government for the proper use of the subvention. The Government is trying to assert authority over church schools it does not have in law.
In January this year, the Ministry of Education announced that there will be "new arrangements for the administration of public funds". Their circular says, "Public fund has been defined as any money received and held by an authorised public officer on behalf of the Government. Monies generated by government educational institutions fall within this category."
And so, if a school has a fundraising barbecue, any profits made which would be "monies generated" by the school now become public funds.
This is a breach of the long-standing partnership arrangement between the Government and churches for the operation of church schools that receive government grant-in-aid.
The law states that if you build on my land, the building becomes mine. If you give me money to manage, I am responsible to manage it well, but I hold it in my bank account which I operate; I will decide who signs on that account. And if I raise other money, or if the Church that owns the school gives the school money, those funds cannot belong to the Government.
Pharaoh needs to be reminded of his arrangement with Joseph.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.