Achieving Vision 2030 - pipe dream?
Esther Tyson, Columnist
Jamaica's Vision 2030 projects that by 2030, every child in our country will have the best learning environment. Each person will leave school at the secondary level with at least five CXC subjects including English, mathematics and a foreign language (grades 1-3), and will have a working skill.
I believe that although we have made some progress in our education system, we have not yet dealt with some issues that mitigate against our achieving these goals by 2030.
As I move around the country and interact with others in the education system, I hear common themes running throughout. First, many parents do not see or understand the paramount importance that education is to the development of their children.
Second, in spite of the PATH initiative that the Government has implemented, many parents do not have the money to pay the bus fare for the students to come to school, nor do they have the money to give them for lunch money.
Third, there are schools that are underpopulated and overstaffed that need to be rationalised.
As a nation, we must find a way to help our people to understand the importance of education to their children's development and success. In order for them to believe this promise, they must see how this can be possible. With the high level of unemployment among the youth who have graduated from high school and even university, there is little to give truth to this claim. Our youth are living in a country where crime and corruption are rampant.
Static political system
The two-party system in Jamaica has failed to move the nation forward. There is a sense of hopelessness that pervades most people, apart from the upper class. The report from the National Youth Values and Attitudes Survey - 2014 reported that almost a half of the interviewees stated that they would be willing to surrender their citizenship to live in another country, many citing better opportunities.
Many persons were upset at Damion Crawford for saying that he has no problem with Jamaicans migrating to work elsewhere as they can send back remittances and bring back expertise to help the country. My question is, are we aware of how widespread unemployment is in this country? Are we really aware of how many university graduates are at home not working and being hounded by the Students' Loan Bureau?
We need to put our ears to the ground and hear what is going on before we begin to condemn Damion Crawford. If there is a better solution to the unemployment plague, come forward with it. We need to give our young people hope!
I believe that if parents saw that there would be employment for their children after they sacrificed for them to go to school, they would make a greater effort to find the means to send them. But alas, to them, the future looks bleak. May I say to those who are now saying that we should value education for education sake, this holds no water when you are hungry and you cannot pay your bills. As Minister Pickersgill would say, that would just be the view of the "articulate minority".
Another area that needs attention is the placement of students in rural Jamaica schools that are far from their homes. This practice undermines the intention that our students are to have access to education. Placing a child of a poor rural farmer or an unemployed parent in a school that requires that he or she pay bus fare of $1,000 per week is indicating that the Ministry of Education (MOE) does not understand the realities that are facing poor Jamaicans.
If a survey of attendance patterns is done in schools, the MOE will see that many students are not coming to school regularly because their parents cannot find the bus fare to give to their children. The irony is that sometimes students are placed at schools that are some 40 miles away, while they pass schools that are 10 miles away from home. This system needs to be fixed.
How can children learn if they are not coming to school regularly? How can the Government set a goal that each child should leave school with five CXC subjects, then set about by, its practices, to undermine the achievement of that goal?
The inclusion of families on PATH does not mean that children go to school each day and are given lunch each day. The amount of money given to the schools to provide lunches for the students on PATH does not cover them having lunch each day. In some schools, students are given lunches twice per week, and in some where it is subsidised, they are given lunches three times per week. For some students this is their only meal for the day. This programme has helped to a limited extent, but the money given is insufficient.
On the other hand, I want to commend Minister Thwaites for seeking to set some things right in a system that has been fossilised for years. The matter of schools that are operating with a handful of students and almost as many teachers, yet having these students illiterate or innumerate, has been stifling the system.
Teachers who do not volunteer to relocate to other schools are allowed to remain in these dying institutions because the minister of education is bound by the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) from rationalising the system to make sure that both teachers and students are relocated to other schools.
Therefore, the move to integrate Charlie Smith High with Trench Town High is a breath of fresh air. It gives hope that at last the JTA will cooperate with the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools that are functioning are viable academically and that the use of the plant is being maximised. No longer should the Government of Jamaica be paying out money to run schools that are underproducing academically and underutilised because of severe decrease in student population.