The Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), an economic policy think tank based at the University of the West Indies, launched its Education Scorecard Report this past week, drawing a number of conclusions and recommendations on the state and prospects of education in Jamaica.
The study was done over two years and was supported by the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue through the Partnership for Educational Revitalisation in the Americas (PREAL). Thirty similar studies have been done in other countries, assessing along nine critical criteria, trends, including enrolment, staying in school, test scores, equity, standards, assessment system, management and accountability, teaching profession, and expenditure. Titled Prism of Possibility: A report card on education in Jamaica, the full study can be viewed on the CaPRI website at www.capricaribbean.org.
The study makes interesting reading, confirming that while progress has been made over the years, particularly as it relates to access, in too many areas we are not advancing at a satisfactory pace, and in other areas we are actually deteriorating. The telling manifestation of our failures in the education system are the data that indicate that among the most economically actively age cohort, between 25 and 59 years, 75 per cent do not have any form of certification in 2008, the same position as in the year 2000.
In addition, up to 40 per cent of that group never completed secondary school and only one in four of those who did so achieved any form of certification. The study characterises certification as passing at least one subject in an exit examination at the secondary, or high-school, levels, such as the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) or a diploma or certificate or degree at the post-secondary or tertiary level. This statistic paints a gloomy picture and is sufficient to explain why labour productivity and competitiveness in Jamaica is so low.
Interestingly, the study does not blame lack of certification or student results on the amount of the national Budget allocated to education. In fact, contrary to popular perception that Jamaica's education system is starved for funds to produce better results, the CaPRI report card found the opposite position. Jamaica's education system receives above-average budgetary support as a percentage of GDP when compared to other developing countries and in some cases equal in share to developed countries.
The issue, according to the report, is how those resources are allocated and used at each level of the education system, meaning from primary to tertiary, and how those resources are utilised within each level.
What is very clear from the data is that there needs to be a more efficient budgeting and auditing of expenditure to ensure that resources are allocated based on a needs assessment and that expenditures are reconciled with results. Here, the relevant personnel within the school system, starting with the leadership or principals and administrators, must be held accountable.
Of significance and most concerning is the failing (grade D) and worsening trend in the area of equal access and opportunity for education. The data confirm that equity in education in Jamaica does not exist, particularly in areas related to males versus females, rich versus poor, rural versus urban, upgraded and technical high schools versus traditional high schools. The report paints a daunting picture which, if not addressed, will ensure that education is restricted from being the social and economic liberating force for individuals and collective empowerment it should be.
The disparity in access and performance between males and females is worrying. While Jamaica has done well in achieving universal access (98 per cent) for both genders at the primary level and close to and better than the rest of the region at the secondary levels, girls are outperforming boys throughout the system and dominate, at a 2:1 ratio, the spaces at the tertiary level. With the gender split in Jamaica at a ratio of almost one to one, the data confirm that our boys, when assessed, from the grade one individual learning profile through to CSEC, are performing much worse than girls. More alarming, this gap is widening.
According to the CaPRI study, "Unless the matter of boys underperforming is addressed urgently, the education system will be a channel of inequality which disenfranchises young men." The time has come for a deep analysis of the roots of this gender disparity, and a strategy put in place on how to cauterise and reverse it. Otherwise, our males will continue to be marginalised and the social and economic consequences will continue to manifest themselves in areas like crime and other forms of antisocial behaviour.
POOR BEING DISENFRANCHISED
Another worrying trend is the extent to which the poorest in the population are being further marginalised because of the inequity in access to higher levels of learning. The report indicates that Jamaicans who fall in the poorest 40 per cent of the population are almost eight times less likely to have tertiary-level education when compared with persons from the 20 per cent wealthiest cohort. In fact, the study quotes from the 2008 Survey of Living Conditions, which states that only one per cent of the poorest quintile of the population has tertiary-level qualification compared to 24 per cent of the highest quintile category.
The inequity is even more glaring when rural versus urban populations are considered, with 81 per cent of rural residents not enrolled in a learning institution, not having any form of certification, compared to the national average of 75 per cent. And school types that are public versus private, and upgraded and technical versus traditional schools, also show inequity, with private and traditional public secondary schools performing consistently better than the newly upgraded high and technical schools.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
Addressing these issues is fundamental in order to provide every child with an opportunity to learn and be useful and worthwhile when they mature into adulthood. Here, the Government has a lead role to play in setting, implementing and enforcing the policy that will address these systemic deficiencies.
But as lead researcher on this comprehensive and well-prepared study, Mrs Dawn Sewell-Lawson, said in her presentation of these findings this past week, it takes a village to raise a child. As a country, we must all agree that educating our
nation must be a multi-stakeholder approach.
As the report recommendations point out, there is a role for parents and civil society, as well as the internal stakeholders of government, and teachers. Parents, for example, must work with their children by encouraging and empowering them to be committed to learning. Simple but important initiatives like providing a place for them to do homework makes a big difference.
Similarly, as the private sector struggles to find qualified and trainable workers, it must also encourage and support the education process in areas like plant upgrade, management through board appointments, and financial support to those vulnerable socio-economic groups.
Education must be seen as the champion for overcoming poverty, and kids from poor backgrounds should be supported beyond the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education, with scholarships and bursaries, and encouraged to pursue higher levels of learning.
The CaPRI study did not address this issue, but a key challenge is to get education positioned at a point of political and stakeholder consensus, both at the policy formulation and implementation levels. Education is recognised as being critical to national development. Jamaica would be better off if we agreed to take the discussion out of the political realm and develop a type of education partnership consensus around how to move forward.
This consensus would require agreement on policy and a commitment by the political parties to stay the course, irrespective if governmental changes, and to avoid the political rhetoric which could result in hostilities. In addition, this consensus should also be around ensuring that personnel are rewarded and maintained as long as agreed targets are met in support of the progress that we seek. Too often education policy and personnel are linked to political cycles, rather than a longer-term developmental cycle. This restricts continuity and compromises progress and quality.
The task at hand is to engage all stakeholders and negotiate an agreement for a 20-year education plan that would not change, as long as it's getting results, even when a government changes.
Dr Chris Tufton is a senator, opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and trade, and investments, and co-executive director of CaPRI. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.