Sat | Feb 23, 2019

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Putting education at risk

Published:Thursday | January 17, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Ruel Reid

Over the past week, it has pained me to read or listen to news items detailing the antics of education minister, Ruel Reid. He seems determined to outpace his fellow politicos and win, hands down, the jackass award for best exemplifying the politics of self and party above country and citizens.

His recently articulated 'Zero to 18 public free education strategy', wherein the Government will fully fund the educational costs for all students from birth to 18 years of age, is nothing more than him trying to bamboozle his way into representational politics. His is the usual sell-out brand of politicking, dangling the freeness bait and duping the lumpen.

 

Freeness kills

 

Whereas the concept sounds great, nothing is free, especially when resources are not readily abundant: freeness comes at a cost as resources will have to be diverted from elsewhere to underwrite such a hare-brained strategy.

The Gleaner editorial (January 11, 2019) aptly summed up Reid's sell-out strategy as "the politics of patronage and dependency ... a free-for-all paradigm in which financially capable parents, including the well-to-do, are subsidised by the State".

'Zero to 18' will effectively absolve financially capable parents of the responsibility to shoulder the costs of educating their children, thereby putting further strain on an already under-resourced educational system. Quality education is therefore likely to become extinct.

 

Criteria

 

I could empathise if the freeness was linked to some form of performance criteria for the students and their parents, but nothing of the sort has been mentioned. Conclusion: cheap sell-out tactics of getting something for nothing as a means to garner votes.

In the event that 'Zero to 18' becomes a reality, students should be required to maintain a minimum grade point average and disciplinary standard in order to enjoy continued access to the freeness. Likewise, parents should be required to meet certain criteria, including appropriate conduct in their dealings with the school and teachers, stemming the crassness that has become so commonplace in parent-teacher relations.

 

Values and attitudes

 

Politics based on patronage and subsidies fails to instil any sense of commodity value in the minds of the beneficiaries: easy come, easy go is the consequential paradigm. Freeness promotes wastefulness and erodes the impetus to excel or to capitalise on every given opportunity because there is no cost for failure.

In the context of free education, misguided students may see little point in exerting themselves because in their minds 'Zero to 18' guarantees them access to an education, and where they fail to meet to prescribed standards, the only likely sanction is to be transferred to another institution of freeness.

We should never lose sight of the fact that the cost of failure in education extends well beyond the age of 18 and has dire individual and collective financial, social and security consequences.

I have to agree with Ronald Thwaites (Gleaner, January 14, 2019) who posited that "for no matter how free everything is, everybody will not get an associate degree or its equivalent if they cannot read and write properly, calculate efficiently, and display appropriate values and attitudes towards themselves, relationships and work".

Remember Longfellow's inspirational quote, "The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night."

To be meaningfully educated requires sacrifices, such sacrifices being driven by the right values and attitudes, a motivation to learn and excel. 'Zero to 18' needs an element of incentivisation, something to give it value and meaning, something to dispel the idolisation of freeness.

In an already derailed system the last thing we need is self-serving policies for the sake of gaining cheap political mileage.

Back to school, Minister Reid.