Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Edward Seaga | Reviving social role of NHT

Published:Sunday | April 2, 2017 | 4:00 AM

Recognise that educated boys are not the ones who become hard criminals. Recognise, too, that educated boys are the ones who study, get a skill, or go on to a career. In other words, their lives are focused on functional performance, not dysfunctional behaviour. They are the ones who eventually become the good citizens who contribute to development.

We don't need to outline this profile any further to make the case that a sound education is indispensable to sustenance, personal satisfaction, and civil stability.

Following the same path for the future of girls, first ask, how many girls/women are in prison? Recognise that more than half of the women eventually become mothers who alone raise their children, are bastions of the Church, the backbone of political support, determined players in civic organisations, achievers in scholarship, and a source of great reliance at any marketplace, or workplace! As such, they are more than women. They are a resource base of the country. They point the way.

This is not to say that some boys are not good performers, who mature to reliable family and community leadership, and that some girls allow themselves to become teenage mothers, among other undesirable life experiences. But the bottom line is that far more boys are dysfunctional than girls.

Bearing in mind how awesome the difference is, something has to be done, and now. It is not sufficient to say that this will be dealt with in the future when funding becomes available. The future is not tomorrow, it is now!

It is sad that over generations, some 70 per cent of youth are annually wasted in the education system. They fail to get a certificate of graduation. In fact, many are not even allowed to sit the graduation CSEC exam because it is felt by their teachers that 'they done fail already'.

The problem is not unknown, but the solution is always postponed because of lack of funds. There is no need for that because if we set aside traditional reactions and lean forward with a different approach for consideration, this critical problem could be solved.

There has been much talk and anger expressed about using funds that form the huge pool of surplus ($135 billion) in the National Housing Trust (NHT). Emphasis is placed on the word 'housing', from which it is deduced that the organisation is to assist only problems that exist in housing. That is a tenuous conclusion.

 

INSUFFICIENT HOUSING

 

Not too long ago, the NHT was publicly accused of not building sufficient houses for the poor. The response of the NHT was that it was very difficult to find more prospective homeowners who understood how to enter into a sale agreement for acquisition of a house with mortgage. Without a sale agreement with mortgage, the NHT could not expect to ever recover the funds spent to build such houses. This would deplete the NHT's fund/assets substantially, and the public would rightly object vigorously.

The problem here is that this impossible position will continue for years and years because the education system is designed to produce a majority of non-graduates from the student body. The poor will continue to be with us; the number of houses continues to be insufficient; and the NHT surplus continues to swell. This is a senseless route to follow.

What would be the financially and socially correct route? Educate the people to become sensible citizens able to be worthy of NHT loans and to live a more productive life. But if this is to materialise, the stagnant education system inherited from colonial days would have to be radically changed.

The essence of the change would be to create a decent early childhood system that would not be segregated into 30 per cent able to handle grade one in primary school and 70 per cent unable. By the time they enter grade one in the primary-school system, 70 per cent of the early childhood group would have been left behind. The pathetic result is that this 70 per cent left behind fails to catch up throughout their school years.

This group of academically deficient children mature, in large part, as victims of poverty beyond the help of the NHT. They are so stymied in adult life that they contribute little to national development. Indeed, they depend on those who made their way through the education system to carry them, creating an extra burden of additional taxes, prices, utility and transport costs for the burden bearers to allow the poor to barely survive as outcasts in the society.

There are 2,500 schools across Jamaica registered in the early childhood system. An Early Childhood Commission (ECC) was set up around 2006-2007 to deal with problems in the system. The work started with establishing a 12-point set of categories of matters that must be dealt with. The results indicate that only a mere 18 schools have met the 12-point standards so far.

"To be formally certified" by the commission, says the state minister in the Ministry of Education, Floyd Green, MP for South West St Elizabeth, "takes a lot of time". At present, the work in this vital subsector is underfunded by the Budget. To some extent, neither sufficient understanding nor commitment exists.

 

FUNDING MECHANISM

 

Some consider the early childhood schools as 'play-play' projects to keep "di pickney dem safe while dem madda gone to work or to ketch another man to help her out". This is far from the truth. Learning to sing ABCs and counting to 20 is no longer acceptable. We must get serious and devise a funding mechanism. This is where the role of the NHT arises.

A few years ago, I learned that it would take about $7 billion to solve the funding problem for the early childhood education subsector. I do not know if the figure has changed now, and, if so, by how much. I suspect that it may have doubled because much more is known about early childhood problems now. Whatever it is should be spread over four to five years. The annual cost would then be manageable.

The NHT has a huge surplus of $135 billion, plus $18 billion, annual inflow in its last year of account. The NHT accounting system enters the inflows in the accounting system as equity. Notwithstanding this, it will not take a rocket scientist to find and justify the relatively manageable amount of $2.3 billion per annum considering that this investment will provide in the years to come new clients for this NHT who will be educated enough to handle mortgage transactions.

This is the best way to handle this problem, which will tackle, in the first phase, the critical problem of providing a proper education for the early childhood school system, and, in the next phase, help to catch up with the need for inexpensive housing for the poor.

It would be necessary to get Government to agree, if this financing model is accepted, that the NHT funds will no longer be used for budget support, which could be for unrelated expenditure.

Little children cannot cry out for better schools to enable them to fulfil their lives. The public has to cry for them. My support will always be there, as it has been for more than 50 years, because I have always believed that the next generation will matter even more than the present and can only be stronger and better if they have been lifted out of poverty.

- Edward Seaga is a former prime minister, chancellor of the University of Technology, and a distinguished fellow at the University of the West Indies. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.