Peter Espeut | He who pays the piper ...
Never has the editor of this newspaper been more out of touch with reality as in its editorial last Wednesday. He asserted: "At issue here is the fact that most of Jamaica's leading high schools are owned by churches. That is to say, the physical plants remain the legal property of the churches, which retain some, in recent decades - though limited, and declining - influence over the management and ethos of the institutions. Baldly, the Government pays the bills: teachers' salaries, utilities, and for services related to the education of children. Parents make a contribution."
It is true that most of Jamaica's leading high schools are owned by churches. This is because successive governments have chosen to build, own and operate schools of lower quality. After Independence, when the then Government sought to expand the access of Jamaicans to high schools, it borrowed many millions from the World Bank to build some 60 high schools.
At the time, access to high schools was determined by performance in the Common Entrance Examination (CEE). If you 'passed', you could go to one of the 41 high-quality high schools, almost all of which were owned and operated by churches or trusts. If you didn't, you would stay in one of the 672 government elementary schools until grade nine, or you could go to one of the eight government 'senior schools'.
WORLD BANK LOAN
What kind of high school would the Government build with the World Bank loan? Would they build high schools (of the quality of church schools) so that more Jamaican children could get access to high-quality secondary education? That was not in their minds at all! The Jamaican Government of the 1960s built 60 or so junior secondary schools in which to place Jamaican children who had FAILED the CEE! The JLP Government of the 1960s has a lot to answer for! It exacerbated and deepened apartheid in Jamaica's education system!
Over the years, successive governments have rebaptised these junior secondary schools as 'new secondary schools', then as 'secondary schools', and now as 'high schools', and there has been some improvement in the quality of education they offer. But their performance remains a good distance below the high schools owned and operated by schools and trusts.
Mr Editor, please note: Not only is the physical plant the legal property of the churches, but also the brand, the credibility and the quality associated with those schools, which are related to the particular ethos that is infused through the curriculum. It is this brand - this ethos - which makes church (and trust) schools the institutions of choice for parents.
Mr Editor, please note: Churches and trusts remain in full control of "the management and ethos of the institutions", according to the agreement worked out years ago with the Government. Churches (and trusts) name the majority of the board members for their schools, and the minister appoints them. These school boards recruit, interview and select principals and teachers for their schools, and the minister appoints them. Neither the Education Act nor the Code of Regulations under that act gives the minister any power to nominate anyone to the staff of a church (or trust) school.
GOVERNMENT PAYS THE BILLS
Yes, the Government pays the bills - "teachers' salaries, utilities, and for services related to the education of children". That is part of the agreement. In return, the Government is entitled to send to the school 95 per cent of its annual student intake. That is the tune for which the Government pays the piper.
Mr Editor, please note: The Government is not the only funder of public schools; the churches also provide significant funding, and to that extent must also be able to call the tune.
The Government does not pay the churches (and trusts) for the management services they provide to the schools. The brand value of church schools is their special guiding ethos, which the Government does not pay for. The discipline for which church schools are known, the character formation of the students (and staff) which takes place, is the church's contribution to the educational effort.
It is churlish for the education minister to behave as if the Government is the only one paying the piper, and therefore is the only one to call the tune.
There are those who see the Church as a threat to their agenda, and who seek every opportunity to diminish the legitimate power and influence of the Church. The Church has no intention of giving up its right to manage the schools it owns and operates.
Let the minister of education spend his time upgrading the quality of the schools the Government owns and operates, to bring them up to the standard of church schools. He owes at least that to the children of Jamaica.
- Peter Espeut is a school administrator and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to email@example.com.