Jermaine Francis, Staff Reporter
The preservation and promotion of Jamaica's material cultural heritage is currently at risk, as there is a chronic shortage of qualified professionals who can effectively work in this field.
This is the word coming from Culture Minister Lisa Hanna and chairman of the National Heritage Trust, Ainsley Henriques.
Both Hanna and Henriques said the material aspects of the country's culture, such as national museums, sites and buildings, are being underutilised and, in some cases, abandoned because there are not enough professionals working in the fields of cultural history and archaeology.
"We are grappling with trying to find people to even run museums, work in archaeology, history, and this kind of work," Hanna noted while speaking with journalists at a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last Friday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.
She said the ministry was exhausted in its search for conservators and curators as the expertise in these fields is limited.
"Even for the three museums that we wanted to open this year, it really stretched us because there was only a core team from the Institute of Jamaica who had the expertise that we needed," Hanna said.
Henriques, who argued that these are among a growing set of disciplines to which more attention needs to be paid, supported Hanna's point.
"We need to advise those who are involved in education and in the training of people in the universities that these are the sorts of disciplines which we are going to be looking to in the future," Henriques posited.
NEED FOR MORE EXPERIENCED PEOPLE
He said the way national sites and museums are currently being run leaves much to be desired.
"When you go on a tour anywhere else in the world, you are speaking with people who have doctorates in history, and the fact is we need people like these. We need people who are prepared to go out there and talk about our country," Henriques argued.
Statistics for the 2010-2011 academic year from the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, revealed that only six students completed the undergraduate degree in heritage studies, two specialised in archaeology and another 42 majored in the same area.
The university currently offers two undergraduate degrees and one graduate degree in the Department of History and Archaeology, targeted at archaeology and heritage studies.
Since last year, the university mandated that all students in the tourism management programme at the institution must take levels two and three heritage-studies courses offered in the history department.