Letter of the Day | Shift education policy
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The cracks in the funding model for the education system, introduced by the government, are beginning to take their toll. The very students whose interest it claims to be protecting with the policy of non-mandatory contributions are the ones being harmed by the said ill-advised policy. The plight that schools now face in covering the full economic cost of lunch for students on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) is but a symptom of the havoc that the Ministry of Education's funding policy has wreaked on the system. The ministry has offered a measly $150 a day to cover daily lunches for PATH students. This, however, does not reflect the actual cost for the lunches and indicates that the ministry is implicitly saying to schools that they should treat PATH students as second-class students by providing them with sub par lunches. The school principals in protecting the dignity of the PATH students have not gone this route and have put pressure on their school's financial resources by funding the shortfall.
The 'PATH pains' that schools are now facing is a clear indication that the Ministry of Education does not, in fact, have the resources to fully fund the education system as it has claimed in defending its current funding policies. The education minister continues to put schools in a precarious financial position simply because he has refused to take a consultative approach to the policymaking process. Almost two years into his tenure and the financial position of many schools has worsened and it will only be a matter of time before the effect of this begins to show up more clearly in the results produced by students.
While the macroeconomic fundamentals have improved, Jamaica's economic recovery remains fragile. The minimal return that we get from our massive investment in education, as witnessed by the gigantic spend on and the negligible results, in terms of improved learning outcomes, from the Education System Transformation Programme (ESTP), is a clear indication that putting further strain on the public purse is not the best solution to the learning crisis which Jamaica faces.
The learning crisis, facing most developing countries, was clinically diagnosed by the World Bank in its latest World Development Report, where it pointed out the anomaly in the massive expansion in schooling, increased funding for schools and the increasing number of children going to school in developing countries and the poor learning outcomes of these students.
We have had an explosion in schooling and increased expenditure on increasing student enrolment but have not been focused on providing quality education. This is the shift in policy that is needed. The minister has wasted too much time being a glorified book-keeper for the education system and not enough time ensuring the improvement of teaching and learning outcomes. The job of an education minister is much more than counting dollars and cents. School funding cannot and should not be the end all and be all of education policy.
The Government, on its own, cannot fully fund the education system and it is high time the Government began to operate the system in line with this reality.