Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Patricia Duncan Sutherland | Education: the last decade and the decade to come

Published:Tuesday | January 28, 2020 | 12:00 AM

As we embark on a new decade, we come knowing that education is the key to our success. We should all be encouraged by that consensus but deeply concerned that at this stage, we still have not got it right.

Last Friday was recognised by countries across the globe as the International Day of Education and the mandate to prioritise education as a tool for peace and development was reaffirmed. This is an opportunity for stakeholders in our education system to reflect and reimagine how we have treated with this tool as a means of achieving these national imperatives.

The outcome we seek in education would ensure that upon graduating high school, a Jamaican student should have a strong positive identity, know how to engender positive relationships in the home and community, and have the ability to seek information and communicate effectively to cause their individual success, socially and economically, while building strong communities. At the core of our ambition is to see positive personal and social results.

In the decade that has passed, both administrations have had some successes in their quest to unlock potential throughout the education system.

LIST OF SUCCESSES

This is not a comprehensive list but a few of the items that have been highlighted as successes by both administrations in no particular order and not attributed to any specifically.

-- We have added new spaces to school in an effort to remove the shift system. Of the 87 schools, 50 have been removed from the shift system to date.

- We made it a requirement for early-childhood Institutions (ECIs) to have at least one trained teacher.

- We included ECIs in the school-feeding programme and expanded the existing programme for primary schools.

- We removed pit latrines from schools.

- We have introduced new curricula, from early childhood through to grade nine.

- We have put in place a math specialist unit in the Ministry of Education in an effort to improve where we are.

- We introduced the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) initiative.

- We introduced a new exam, Primary Exit Profile (PEP) – the jury is still out on this one.

In the last decade, we made a good effort yielding incremental success, but they were not the right things to cause the outcomes described above. We did not recognise that a child’s social well-being is a critical part of their readiness to learn.

With all the stated successes of the last decade (and there are more claimed), at the end of the decade our academic outcomes are:

- In 2019, over 90 per cent enrolled in traditional high schools achieved five Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC subjects), including math and English, while under 20 per cent achieved good results in non-traditional.

- For PEP, depending on the subject, about 50 per cent of the children coming out of primary and preparatory schools are deemed to be proficient.

MUST REPRIORITISE

Our social outcomes are high levels of crime and disorder, and harsh and violent relationships – in schools, on public transport, in communities, in homes.

Our economic outcomes are stunted growth, with unemployment at seven per cent, but some 185,000 persons between 18 and 55 are not looking for work; and over 50 per cent of those looking for work are earning $7,000 per week or less – all of this, with a workforce that is not prepared for a new economy.

Over the last decade, based on our capital spend in education vis-à-vis roads, it is clear where our priorities are.

- The maximum spend on education in the last 10 years was $2.6 billion in 2017, and the highest spend on roads was $27 billion in 2018.

- Each year, education gets about three per cent of the capital budget spent (after removing debt amortisation) and roads get between 20 and 40 per cent.

While we tout the ‘cyapet’ roads, the learning environment, the school environment within which teachers work and students learn to be productive Jamaicans, is stuck somewhere in the 1950s.

In the decade to come, we must reprioritise.

Patricia Duncan Sutherland is the People’s National Party’s caretaker for South East Clarendon and Opposition spokesperson on Education and Training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com