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Gleaner 180 - Education at a price

Published:Saturday | September 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
George Davis
  • Education at a price

Published: SEPTEMBER 8, 1992

Carl Wint, Contributor

EDUCATION is the key to success. Without it, people remain in the backwater, and societies remain primitive. Education in today's Jamaica is cause for concern. There are some people who believe that the quality of education has deteriorated.

An older generation will point to the quality of 'Sixth Book' graduates of primary schools in years gone by and compare them favourably to university graduates with a first degree these days.

Indeed, in a situation where the University of the West Indies has to waste time and resources putting some students through remedial work in English, then it seems that this is hard evidence to support the views of the old-timers.

The fact is that our population has grown tremendously over the years, and our resources have not kept pace with that population growth.

The country's inability to pay teachers reasonably well has meant top-quality teachers leaving the classroom to earn a livelihood elsewhere. The quality of teaching has suffered as a result. The shortage of money has meant, too, a failure to maintain schools properly, at the very time when the size of classes has grown.

Added to that is the vandalising of the schools by people from the communities they serve.

With almost 50 per cent of the national Budget being used to service debt, and with the claims on the rest of it by health, security and justice and other services, education has not been getting the percentage needed to keep it abreast of the national need and demand.

The private sector has been assisting through the Adopt-a-School Programme, by making bursaries, scholarships and grants available. The sector is also being pressed to give more. And the pressure is not from the educational sector alone.

The time has come to face the fact there is no such thing as free education. Someone has to pay. The notion that people can have as many children as they want, and that it is the duty of the State to educate those children, is a lot of nonsense. Parents must realise that the education of their children is their own responsibility, not the State, not the Church and not other citizens.

Having stated that, it must be noted that the State traditionally has played a significant part in financing the education system. Clearly, the emphasis should be on the early years from primary through secondary. At the tertiary level, the students and the parents should be taking up more of the slack.

We like to talk about getting a consensus on education. We have heard about a National Education Council. There have been papers on the way education should go in this country. Studies have been done, but it is all talk. The concrete action to chart a course which is understandable, and to which people are committed, is not in place.

What we have is a hodgepodge with everybody doing their own thing. It is time to put an end to that. Let us decide finally where we want to go, how much it is going to cost, and what sacrifices are going to be made to finance an education system that is well structured and designed to be effective.

Those parents who believe that they can spend their money on other things, clothes, cars, entertainment, while looking to the State to stand the full cost of their children's education should be told that that is not on. They will be required to help pay for that education. If they will not pay, then tough luck. And, the rest of the society should not feel guilty about it.

Many who are now talking about the high cost of education forget that their own parents made enormous sacrifice to send them through school.

  • Response - Cash not the problem

Published: SEPTEMBER 13, 2014

George Davis, Guest Columnist

The Ministry of Education's figurative arms must be getting tired throwing money at the problems in the country's education system. It has been spending enormous sums in this most crucial of areas since 1972. Over those 42 years, the Government has expended an average of 6.5 per cent of GDP on education.

Over that period, the lowest level of public expenditure on education, as a percentage of GDP, was the 3.2 per cent recorded in 1993. Successive governments have taken a pounding over the years for not spending enough on the country's most important resource. But an examination of the annual Budget numbers would show that based on what it has available to spend, through tax collections, loans and grants, governments have directed much of the public's money towards education.

For this academic year, the education ministry claims to have spent a whopping $974 million on textbooks for students at the primary and secondary level under the National Textbook Loan Scheme and the Primary Textbook Programme. The overall education budget for the fiscal year is $81 billion, broken out into $78 billion for recurrent expenditure and another $2 billion for capital expenditure. So the outlay on textbooks is almost half the size of the allocation to undertake infrastructure projects in the schools. By any consideration, this is a huge sum. The point being made is that money is not the greatest problem assailing the delivery of education in this country and the subsequent results. By results, we should look beyond passes at the CSEC level, or degrees gained at the tertiary level. Rather and correctly, results should mean the quality of the students who leave the various levels of the education system and move on to other areas, with the ultimate destination being a position from which they can contribute to nation building.

So if we are spending so much, how come the out-turn is so poor? How come so many graduate the secondary school system and are illiterate and innumerate? How come so many leave the universities fully degreed and are so glaringly incapable of adding value to an organisation they join or create through entrepreneurship? Just like Medusa, the problem has many faces. One of those faces is represented by the quality of teaching.

The data is unavailable to support the claim, but I swear there are more bad teachers now than there have ever been since 1962. As a past student of a non-traditional high school which placed students in class one to 10 across all five grades, based on competence and with one being the highest, it is saddening for me to see many of the girls and boys who struggled in the lower levels throughout their secondary years, dressed to the nines and going to work as teachers. A boy who never rose beyond the fifth stream in any grade between seven and 11, and who squeezed into teachers' college and lucked his way through, is now standing in front of people's children, cheating a living in the noble teaching profession. It hurts me and, more important, hurts the nation. There is an army of men and women fitting that profile who struggled with problem-solving and reasoning when they were themselves students, who are now in the classroom trying to get contemporary students to excel in these areas.

Part of the remedy for this is to design the training courses for student teachers into three distinct segments: learning the material, understanding it, and delivering it. Each student teacher should be trained to function like a trade unionist representing a bargaining unit, when they are dealing with course content. They must, like a union representative, engage in continuous debate on course material, in order to refine their ideas; internalise principles, and prepare themselves for the challenge posed by inquisitive students.

Much of what the great Carl Wint wrote about the deficiencies in education 22 years ago, rings true today. That in itself is another shame. But nowadays, money is not the problem. The problem is the quality of inputs in the education system. And being second in importance only to the students in this expensive system, our dear teachers need a little fire and smoke in their colony to stimulate improvement. Selah.