Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
The poor out-turn from the country's education system continued last year despite marginal improvements in some areas.
For 2013, a hard-working minister Ronald Thwaites has vowed to push measures to continue the gains, but stakeholders are weary based on the amount of work to be done and the tight fiscal space in which the Government will operate.
For president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Clayton Hall, four major issues have to be given urgent attention this year.
"Early-childhood education remains a significant challenge that we must address," Hall told The Sunday Gleaner.
"There also needs to be an emphasis on special-needs education because nothing seems to be done in that area," added Hall.
The JTA president also listed a need to deal with the education infrastructure by creating more classroom space and the need to work out a policy to deal with maladaptive behaviour, including violence.
The concerns of Hall were shared by other stakeholders in the education sector who argued that 2013 must be the year when the country begins to break the back of the persistent literacy and numeracy woes facing the nation.
According to the stakeholders, there must be a targeted allocation of the scarce resources particularly at the early-childhood level.
"In 2013 and beyond, the focus has to continuously be at the early stages while at the later stages, expanding the capacity of students who meet the criteria to access tertiary education," declared co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), Dr Christopher Tufton.
Having carried out an extensive review to chart a way forward in education in 2013 and beyond, CaPRI is shortly to make a presentation titled 'Prisms of Possibility: A Report Card on Education in Jamaica'.
The review is a collaborative research project that assessed the performance of Jamaica's education system in nine critical areas.
They are: enrolment; staying in school; test scores; equity; standards; assessment system; management & accountability; teaching profession; and expenditure.
In addition to assessing the successes, possibilities and remaining challenges in the education system, CaPRI has also made recommendations for improvement.
Tufton, an opposition senator and former government minister, has refused to divulge recommendations before the report is launched, but he believes this year will be a critical one for Jamaica's education sector.
"We will have to look seriously on the issue of resources and how it is allocated as well as the deficiencies in the early stages - pre-primary and primary infrastructure - and its impact on delivery," Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.
Quality of delivery
He argued that the quality of delivery should be another critical area of focus this year.
"This is important because if you don't prepare the foundation you end with the manifestation of poor literacy and numeracy because they don't meet that standard and end up being forced to undertake remedial activities that inevitably become a part of the system.
"The infrastructure influences delivery but delivery is also impacted by levels of preparedness and by the circumstances that the young students have to grapple with even before they enter the formal education system."
Tufton emphasised that the subject of delivery speaks to more than just teachers.
"It is also about circumstances and some of the social impacts of some of those circumstances. Such as home and family background," said Tufton.
In the meantime, Tufton is also of the view that the recently approved credit bureaus should be structured to advance the opportunities of students at the tertiary levels.
According to Tufton, the risk profiling of tertiary-level students should be improved significantly with the advent of the credit bureaus which could reduce some of the guidelines that were necessary because of the possibility of students not meeting their loan obligations.