Ronald Thwaites | Fixing education together
Some weeks ago, Minister Ruel Reid invited members of the People's National Party's (PNP) Education Task Force and me to share information on, and discuss collaboration regarding, the introduction of the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). This was a good beginning, consistent with the national resolve of the 1990s to place, as much cheaper as possible, education above the partisan fray.
That determination does not mean that significant policy and implementation differences between the political blocs will not arise, but that consistent effort will be made to reconcile positions; to express criticisms in constructive, rather than obstructive, ways; and to avoid one-upmanship.
After all, education and training is the most crucial and expensive undertakings of State and citizen, and their efficiency ought not to be dependent on the vagaries of the electoral cycle.
In truth, this should be the spirit and conduct for all national issues, and I am convinced that there will be no sustained, inclusive and wholesome progress and prosperity unless there is a radical change of political attitude.
Pursuant to this approach, the chair of the PNP's task force and distinguished former permanent secretary in the education ministry, Elaine Foster-Allen, accepted the minister's invitation to join the body monitoring the PEP implementation.
Having presided over the preliminaries to do with the new curriculum and the derivative exit exam at grade six, she has both tremendous experience and insight to offer. These capacities are in short supply. Politics should include, rather than exclude, scarce talent. This move is both a first step and, hopefully, a powerful pointer to what joint, sincere, nationalist intent can bring to a difficult phase of educational transformation.
Of course, if the gesture stops there and turns out to be merely a cunning effort to save face in what has been a confused and rushed process up to now, the cynics and scorners of the political process, perhaps half of our people, will have proved their point.
Minister, let us prove them wrong in the interest of our children. Let us break through instinctive tribalism rather than fall prey to it!
An issue that needs immediate correction has to do with the fallout from the so-called abolition of auxiliary fees. There is a high school in central Kingston which, not counting the Government's contributions, has an annual budget of just over $100 million. This money provides for everything, from sufficient toilet paper, maintenance needs, welfare expenses and a host of co-curricular programmes and academic add-ons that enrich the student experience.
Auxiliary fees used to provide about two-thirds of this sum. No student was ever excluded if their parents could not contribute. Profits from the school canteen and generous alumni made up the rest.
Well, since this Government has reduced the sense of obligation to pay, the contributions have decreased by half, and millions of what was paid has had to be refunded to public servants claiming that they are exempt from payment of what had been said was abolished. So what can the school do but cut its programmes, to the detriment of the students, or use the advance of next year's subvention to pay off last year's bills?
It would be very easy to score political points about this nonsense. Instead, let us fix the problem by providing adequate money, from the Budget, from parents and friends, to afford quality schooling.
Let me balance that criticism with strong support for the minister, who tells me that Cabinet has signed off on the long-awaited Teaching Services Bill, which will bring a measure of professionalism and accountability to the task of teaching and is indispensable to the process of transformation.
Next week, we can look at some important needs and developments regarding nutrition in schools.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.