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Paulton Frankson | Money down the education drain?

Published:Friday | July 21, 2017 | 12:00 AMPaulton Frankson

Money down the education drain?

Thirteen years on from the publication of the task force report and the addition of some six new agencies to the Ministry of Education through the ESTP during the period, has the education system improved in its efficiency, accountability and performance? More important, has this massive investment made in education improved the outcomes for the throngs of students exiting the system on an annual basis?

With approximately 3,000 dropouts each year, an absenteeism rate exceeding 20 per cent, a total of 2297 untrained teachers in the system and the failure of many schools to adequately prepare students to obtain the bare minimum of passes for external examinations; the education system appears to be in the same existential crisis that it was in when the education task force was started in 2004.

Taking 2003 as the baseline year, the performance of students in the four major exams administered annually, while showing improvements, has, based on the trend data, not kept apace with the level of investment made.

The percentage of students attaining mastery in the Grade Four Literacy Test in 2003 was 57.7 per cent. Within a nine-year period that saw a percentage-point increase of 16.3 per cent when a mastery level of 74 per cent was obtained in 2012. Any significant increase has since tapered off, with last year's six per cent decrease representing a reversal of the trend. The percentage of students obtaining mastery for the years 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 was 76,77,86 and 80 per cent, respectively.

No 2003 data are available for the Grade Four Numeracy Test, but the percentage of students attaining mastery, since this exam was introduced, has failed to even come close to the 85 per cent target that was set by the ESTP and last year saw a reversal in the minor increases that were experienced over a three year period. The results between 2012 and 2016 for each respective year are as follows: 54,58, 57.5, 63.6 and 59.8 per cent.

The average scores for the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) in mathematics and language arts in 2003 were 48 per cent and 52 per cent, respectively. The trend data from 2014 show no significant increase in these scores over a three-year period. The average GSAT scores in mathematics for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016 were 60,56 and 58 per cent, respectively.

For language arts, the average scores are 62, 64 and 68 per cent for each corresponding year. That the target of 80 per cent set by the ESTP, through the National Education Strategic Plan 2011-2020, has not been achieved in either of these critical subject areas is yet another indication that the investment made in the reform of education has not delivered in the way that was expected.


Real returns


In correlation to the GSAT results, the real return on the average of $23.6 billion spent on a yearly basis through the ESTP between 2014 and 2016, has been -3 percentage points in average scores for mathematics and a mere two percentage points for English language.

For any entity, even a Government, to be spending that much money for such minuscule improvements in performance is really an insult to those who would have made the investment; in this case the World Bank in the form of a loan, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in the form of a loan and grant and ultimately the taxpayers of Jamaica who upfronted US$12.95 million and will eventually have to repay the IDB and World Bank loans.

The Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) results also indicate that there is little value for money and return on investment for the massive spend on education reform. The percentage of students attaining grades 1-3 in 2003 was 45 per cent for English A and 36 per cent for mathematics.

For English A, 66,65 and 71 per cent of students earned grade one to three for 2014, 2015 and 2016, respectively. For mathematics, the results are dismal, with 2014 registering 56 per cent, 2015 showing 62 per cent and 2016 recording 48 per cent. These results indicate that there has been a plateau in student performance.

Some of the major problems with the education system which were highlighted by the 2004 education task force report included inadequacy in the education system's capacity to offer relevant preparatory benefits, mediocre performance in essential subjects of mathematics and English language, prevailing attitudes of indiscipline among students, disparity in learning outcomes among male compared to female students and inequitable access to opportunities of social and economic mobility at socially stratified boundaries.

Thirteen years and $165 billion dollars later, these problems, which should have been addressed by the ESTP, are still with us.

In regards to the structure of the education ministry itself, much of the investment of the ESTP has gone into addressing what the task force report described as a hierarchical, highly centralised and bureaucratic organisation. The ministry has, through the ESTP, established the National Education Inspectorate, the Jamaica Teaching Council, the National Education Trust, the National College of Educational Leadership and the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission, the Department of School Services and the National Parenting Support Commission. All of these agencies have been superimposed on a central ministry which remains highly bureaucratic.

From all indications, these agencies have not affected the education landscape in a significant way and have only served to bloat the Government and add to the inefficiency of the entire machinery.

This agencification of the Ministry of Education has called for more resources in staffing, infrastructure and recurrent government expenditure. These agencies have added an additional strain on the public purse without much results to show for it. The aims of the ESTP were indeed revolutionary but, as with most initiatives in Jamaica, the implementation has not lived up to its lofty ideals.