Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Fix our broke and broken education system

Published:Sunday | January 24, 2016 | 1:42 AM
The Gleaner's Youth Council is urging the party that forms the next government to fix our broke and broken education system to give students like these youngsters at Rousseau Primary School a chance.
The Gleaner's Youth Council is urging the party which forms the next government to fix our broke and broken education system to give the youngesters like the ones in this picture at a chance.
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This week’s Council members are Aleya Jobson, Elton Johnson, Orvilley Levy, Dervin Osbourne, Tina Renier, Kemario Davis, Andre Stephens, Odeka Haughton and Robyn Boyd.

It is clear to us that Jamaica’s education system fails to address the needs of our workforce.

By focusing on individualised learning and responding to this crisis as actively as we do to our debt-collectors, perhaps we will solve two problems at once.

If we’re mad about crime, our stagnant economy and our wasted potential, then we need to get real about education reform.
Most high schools worry about CXC passes which is one of the guides used by the Ministry of Education to determine if an educational institution is “passing” or “failing”.

But how will it be possible for schools or students to “pass” when the system is fashioned for a considerable majority to “fail”?

The system is established to reward a certain type of intelligence instead of recognising the varying forms of learning styles and abilities of individual students, and while changes are on the way, they cannot come fast enough. 

The status quo

In 2012, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) found that youth crime costs the Jamaican economy $46.5 billion each year.

Comparatively, the Ministry of Education was allocated only $1.97 billion in 2015/2016 towards capital spending that advances the educational system.

If we do the math on 2014’s governmental budget, debt took up an offensive 33 per cent of spending while education came in second with 19 per cent. Only about 0.19 per cent of the overall budget went towards improvements in education.

The rest of the funding in education was allocated to overhead costs like salaries and keeping the lights on. The more we try to figure out how to address the real needs of our students, the more insufficient that budget seems.

The recent National Education Inspectorate, NEI, report concluded that 55 per cent of schools investigated were ineffective.

Furthermore, a minimum of five CSEC passes including Mathematics and English is required for most basic jobs yet only 17 per cent of the students at the institutions analysed in NEI’s 2013 report passed.

Our current system therefore fails to prepare many students for employment.

If we seek to take our education out of its colonial origins into the 21st century, we will have to accept that there is a debt owed on the returns of our education system that is just as dire as our financial debt.

Balancing the equation

While the cost of education reform is high, the returns are even higher. More and more education systems worldwide are trying methods such as dumping letter grades and standardised classes in favour of individualised courses and projects.

Finland, consistently ranked in the top five education systems globally (Pearson’s Learning Curve Index), offers tenth-graders the option of three-years’ general or vocational study.

With this approach, you encourage students to pursue their individual passions and equip them to meet the demands of the labour market more readily, even with a secondary education alone.

Every citizen is of unique value and varying ability. If our education system stops persistently shoving square pegs into round holes out of custom, we may finally make progress.

The long-term cost to the society by many of our “underachievers” could be avoided if they were offered courses that stimulated them, played to their strengths, encouraged puzzle-solving and imagination, as well as a positive sense of self.

If fiscal responsibility is such a priority as evidenced by the disproportionate spending on debt when compared to the development of the young people of this nation, then we propose a more urgent move for reforms that will yield high returns:

● Remodel existing, under utilised schools and infrastructure to create special regional institutes that cater to the interests and competences of individual students for example high schools for: the visual and performing arts, more specialised institutions for physical education and sports, development and technologies, and entrepreneurship, agriculture, like the so far successful remodelling of Trench Town High School into a polytechnic college.

● Develop a streamlined process for the monitoring and assessment of overall progress of students through the development of personal learning plans (PLPs) and separate students based on areas of interest and regional location rather than the traditional versus non-traditional institutions that currently exist.

● Base classroom instructions on what was gathered in these PLPs and ensure there are various academic intervention programmes in these specialised schools.

● If the issue is that we cannot afford too much reform then we must recognise sustainability issues as an immediate priority. If we have limited capital spending and the rest of the budget is dedicated to paying overhead costs including electricity, then an immediate priority is to dedicate capital spending of one or two years to eliminate unnecessary costs and become as energy- and food-sufficient as possible.

Good governance means using our tightly stretched resources effectively in crafting a solid and sustainable educational system. Vision 2030 may emphasise all the great aspirations we have but if we are truly operating at a deficit, it will take a big ideological shift to enact change. It’s actually one of the few things we can afford.

Get active and tell us:

“Do you believe a more personalised approach will save the education system and stimulate economic growth? Join our conversations on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #KlickItUp.