Mon | Jul 6, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | The big idea

Published:Monday | February 24, 2020 | 12:11 AM
University student using laptop In lecture
University student using laptop In lecture

The cynicism of more than half the Jamaican citizenry about the national enterprise is the ­greatest threat to democracy. The country needs a big idea, a compelling purpose, around which personal ­endeavour and ­community energy can coalesce.

Sport and cultural successes help but are transitory. Applause is heavy for Shelly-Ann, Usain, Toni-Ann and Koffee but soon, very soon, most of us slink back into ­disappointment and ­selfishness. Other-worldly religion provides personal solace for many: ­neither political party has an ­arresting ideology, the adherence to which takes all but the dwindling die-hards beyond themselves. So where does this leave the ­wind-swept rest of us?

Like the bewildered men on the Emmaus road, I thought I had detected recently a growing consciousness, not new but renewed, that the pursuit of knowledge and skills was being recognised as the key to stepping up inna life – the real rather than the cruelly deceptive way to bruk outa bruckness.

The failure of the current ­economic model to keep most of us at anything more than life-­support; the spreading social ­deconstruction, now moving from street corner and taxi madness to the schoolroom, all shriek for ­thorough-going remedy.

Even the regular pundits and guinegogs of the society have recognised the need to take us beyond the really foolish banality of Clarks and ‘Brogad’. Education and training would have to be key if we are serious.


Enter the 2020-2021 Estimates of Expenditure. How could Nigel do this to us, Karl? I thought this was to be the surge year for this sector. Instead, the education budget is ­generally flat. The recurrent ­figure will buy less this year than in 2019, and the increases in the already-pitifully inadequate capital allocation will not soon lift the quality of teaching and learning.

The hurriedly derived figure of 400 recent teacher resignations is frankly just the tip of the iceberg. Any proper survey will likely ­disclose many more empty ­classrooms and worse, it is the better preceptors who are exiting.

We have seen this coming, but preside over such a thick, ­unresponsive system that ­effective remedial moves, like recapitalisation of the teacher-training ­institutions and swiftly improving teacher remuneration, cannot be entertained. So we tinker and resort to well-meaning but flawed recourses, like scratching to find retirees and promoting trainees beyond their capacities.

Before we approve these budget figures, can we pause and acknowledge that the enablement for human resource development is insufficient for the ambitious economic growth programme which we tout. Our ­priorities are upside down.

Look at how diverse nations like Cuba and Singapore have done it. In different ways but towards the same end, the literacy, ­numeracy and vocational excellence of all their people has been the all-­consuming priority, the big idea, of the nation and the foundation of effective investment and ­productivity. They found the sense of ­purpose and the money to do it.

Not so with us. At least not yet. Every Jamaican needs to go back to school if we are going to achieve our goals. The responsibility of the State is to provide quality ­opportunities and avid ­inducements to this end. The public mindset will have to make a wrenching change from the opiate of bling.

This is the different narrative, the ­exciting purpose which should dominate public discourse and judicious spending. And if we are thinking straight, we should vote for the party which can best lead the education and training revolution.

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to