Aubyn Hill, Financial Gleaner Columnist
National Commercial Bank of Jamaica, the nation's biggest bank, recorded its historically highest net profit of J$13.03 billion in 2011.
Apart from debt service which is estimated to gobble up about 60 per cent of the J$612-billion 2012 national budget, Jamaica's education budget received the largest ministerial allocation of 12 per cent of the budget pie.
The J$73.8-billion education budget for the current year is 5.66 times the size of the historical high profit of NCB. Education is very big business.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, his Cabinet colleagues and our prime minister carry a huge responsibility as they spend the entire budget - 60 per cent of which they and their colleagues of former administrations have ceded to the control of lenders - and especially that of its highest funded ministry, education.
In a difficult economic environment, by adopting sensible policies and implementing them well, the education ministry can be expanded to become a direct engine of economic growth.
Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic have marked their economic space as manufacturers in the Caribbean.
Jamaica does not have Trinidad's cheap energy resources and attendant cash.
THE KNOWLEDGE WORKER
Given that the "leading social groups will be knowledge workers" in the Post-Capitalist Society by Peter Drucker, Jamaica's Government, business people and investors, educators, parents and students must cooperate and agree to make Jamaica the education capital of the Caribbean.
With limited natural resources, crippling debt, and very high unemployment, the government needs to set clear policies, invite local and foreign investors, and change and improve significantly the standards by which we educate our students.
If the 'knowledge worker' is the best asset a company can have and a country can produce, Jamaica needs to make the 'policy decision' to restructure our educational activities to produce this consistently excellent knowledge-worker product.
We can give our country an outstanding sustainable competitive advantage if we adopt such a policy and implement it consistently well. Costa Rica, Latvia and Japan, all countries without abundant natural resources, have done so.
Jamaican nurses and teachers are well recognised, sought after and respected across the world including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East and Japan.
This recognition is without any direct GOJ policy support and, sometimes, despite negative comments and objections locally.
To keep our focus narrow and strong, we should add actuaries and computer programmers to nurses and teachers as our first cohort of knowledge workers.
As world demand changes, our basket of skills will.
FIT FOR EXPORT
Jamaican nurses and actuaries are in extremely high demand overseas.
Nurses have a long tradition of seeking and finding foreign employment.
So let us turn the supply of this need into an industry. Let us train our nurses - and actuaries, teachers and computer programmers - to the highest international levels to pass the exams in their destination countries.
In the US, the relevant exam is the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) which seeks to test nursing knowledge learned in school, and if nurses can use critical thinking skills to make nursing judgments.
Female and male students will be gleaned from our best high schools, and high-school graduates who may have joined the workforce could choose to return to the full-time classroom degree programme to take up a career in nursing.
Foreign students from the Caribbean, Central and South America - many with the view to learn English - could be encouraged to study on Jamaican campuses. The full degree programme attendees could be one stream of students.
A second could be populated by more experienced practising nurses with degrees from our region, but also as from far away as India and elsewhere in Asia, who need to prepare and pass the NCLEX, and strengthen their English language skills.
The key to success of developing a strong demand pull for our nursing graduates is the tough student-selection criteria, effective teaching and rigorous scholarship standards.
There can be no compromises on these standards for nurses, actuaries and others in this drive to educational excellence and economic growth.
LUCRATIVE INVESTMENT DESTINATION
I propose that private investors should lead this charge.
In any event, the GOJ has very little, if any, cash to be an investor. Still, the GOJ's role is vital.
Private investors will need large plots of land to build campuses. The GOJ has large swathes of unused land which can be made available on very long leases to investors.
The focus must be to get investors to put their money in the project and not to make a killing on the leasing of land that has remained unused for generations.
Jamaicans will benefit from construction jobs to build the campuses and dormitories, new jobs to educators and other service providers, as well as a multiplier effect to farmers and craftsmen that will supply goods and services to these campuses.
The Government will need to legislate changes to the granting of licences by professional bodies to remove possible roadblocks and unnecessary delays.
Some investors may want to build entire campuses to house basic/kindergarten, prep, high school and tertiary campuses using the well-prepared graduates from their high schools to help feed their degree programmes.
Other investors and educators may decide to employ the very rigorous International Baccalaureate high-school programme which, when passes are achieved by these students, fits them extremely well for university education.
Clearly, I view this kind of education offering as an export product and foreign-exchange earner, but all graduates will not necessarily leave Jamaica.
The injection of private investor's money, rigorous educational standards and good jobs for graduates will also force our current educational system to change and improve its quality.
This approach will be a win-win for investors, educators, parents, students and Jamaica.
Aubyn Hill is the CEO of Corporate Strategies Limited and was an international banker for more than 25 years. email@example.com