Sun | Jul 21, 2019

Editors' Forum | PNP gov’t under Phillips promises return to free education

Published:Sunday | July 14, 2019 | 12:27 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Dr Peter Phillips

Free tertiary education, one of the linchpin provisions of the People’s National Party (PNP) regime of the 1970s, will make a return under a PNP administration, said its leader, Dr Peter Phillips.

The initial step will be the ‘first in the family platform’, put forward by Senator Damion Crawford during his unsuccessful by-election bid in Portland Eastern in April.

Phillips, during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum at the media house’s North Street, Kingston offices last week, said the ability of Jamaicans to access free education during the 1970s remains one of the greatest achievements in Jamaican politics led by PNP’s late former leader, Michael Manley.

This time, however, the party intends to take a more measured step to providing access.

“Our purpose, our passion is to provide the avenue for the upliftment of the marginalised. It is a continuation of the historic mission of the PNP. We intend to continue the assault on the divided Jamaica that exists, divided between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, the marginalised and those who enjoy the plenty,” said Phillips.

In September 2018, Phillips said he outlined the key areas perpetuating the division of the Jamaican society, which include the two-tiered apartheid system – one set of schools offering substandard education, with only a few offering and operating at accepted and above-average levels.

“We intend to assault this with the most massive mobilisation, akin to what we did with the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) programme to make Jamaicans literate in the 1970s. This will be assaulted with financial, human and educational resources,” he told editors and journalists at the forum.

NO ONE WILL BE LEFT BEHIND

According to the Opposition leader, the emphasis is to make clear that no educational institution will be left behind with resourcing, both staffing and financial.

“We are committed also to a ‘first in the family’ scholarship programme, as the beginning of our return to free tertiary education over time. For every child who is the first in the family to matriculate, a PNP administration which I lead will offer them full scholarship for tertiary education, because it uplifts all families,” Phillips explained.

In 1974, Manley declared education free for all individuals from the primary to the tertiary level. The introduction of universally free secondary education was a major step in removing institutional barriers to private sector and preferred government jobs that required secondary diplomas. A majority of Jamaicans of African descent were illiterate, and their children inherited their illiteracy, which condemned them to menial jobs. That same year, the PNP government also formed JAMAL, which administered adult education programmes, with the goal of capturing 100,000 adults a year.

The PNP said for its renewed initiative, the ‘first in the family’ scholarship was the most equitable way to offer this upliftment programme.

Other than education, Phillips said the second issue contributing to the societal divide was the distribution of assets, in the form of lands.

“In the small farming communities, 60 per cent of small farmers have no titles. They can’t walk into a financial institution and access benefits, despite having tenure. Many are using the same technology for farming used a century ago. That’s another central area we need to address to unify the society,” said Phillips.

He said the PNP was not opposed to big businesses, but the trickle down philosophy has not worked and will not work.

“What we really need is a direct effort to lift those producers who are now informal, we want to bring them in the formal economy and provide access to financing,” he said.

Phillips is facing a PNP leadership challenge from Manchester Central Member of Parliament Peter Bunting.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com