Ronald Thwaites | Education and training: the path to growth
(This and next week’s column will consist of excerpts from a sectoral presentation in Parliament on April 23.)
My fundamental premise is that the only way to achieve high growth for the nation and the prospect of personal achievement for all is the exponential rather than the incremental transformation of education and training.
Accordingly, this presentation seeks to be collaborative and not merely critical. I am not here to condemn the activities of this Government or of any aspect of the education and training system. Long ago, we resolved that education was too important to be caught up in the partisan divide. Abiding by this conviction underlies all I have to say.
Some important issues have to be cleared up. The first is that the events of the past two months, culminating with the dismissal of the minister, have set policy adrift. Gossip abounds, and suspicion surrounds persons and institutions at the ministry itself, the Caribbean Maritime University, the National Education Trust, and the HEART Trust, among others. You can’t decapitate the leader of the system and not expect the entire corpus to stagger. Specific questions must be answered by the prime minister. This should have been done already to avoid the ongoing haemorrhage of confidence.
Next, there are structural issues impeding educational progress which we refuse to acknowledge and remediate. The main one is to convince all Jamaicans, starting with both sides of political leadership, that education and training, not ‘ginalship’, scamming and bling, are the only legitimate pathways to step up inna life.
The education budget this year does not reflect this consciousness. Recurrent expenditure is a mere two per cent over what it was last year – less than the rate of inflation. And the projections down to 2023 tell of annual increases hovering between six and seven per cent. This is going backward, not forward. The capital budget is even more alarming. Just when we were told that we would be investing to end the shift system, for example, capital spend is reduced by 25 per cent this year and slated to go down by up to 70 per cent in succeeding years.
These figures make it abundantly clear that we Jamaicans have a crisis of will and intent, of wrong priorities, which is cruelly holding back our children and colting our 2030 vision.
What kind of mindset could have crafted such a budget?
For if you accept my original premise, then it is not reduced, nor stagnant, nor merely incremental educational investment which is going to make the difference to everything. By no means is more money the whole answer, but I am pleading that more money from our healthy revenue surpluses, not less, must be allocated and spent wisely for this sector to achieve the exponentially transformed outcomes which are essential.
Another unresolved matter cramping effective education is the decline of social competencies affecting most of our children. In past years, when children went to school, it could have been assumed that they had command of a level of language, of social readiness, of respect for others; they were ready to learn; they had some measure of parental support and reasonable nutrition; and, very, very importantly, they had an experience of going to Sabbath or Sunday school.
We cannot make those assumptions any more.
Not in the reality of broken families, weakened communities and hedonistic street life.
Schools are not yet equipped to assume responsibilities for social remediation. Teachers are neither trained nor given the tools to deal with the levels of social dysfunction and untended special needs.
This is why so many get left behind. Until we fix this situation, there will always be new recruits to gangs, no matter how many states of emergency are declared.
Individualised learning, which is the mantra of our time, needs to include social competencies. Come with me to the teachers’ colleges and they will tell you that while their recruits may have plenty of ‘subjects’, many are simply not attitudinally ready for advanced education, let alone to take their place in a classroom.
Over the last three generations, the powerful impact of ethical and religious education in Jamaican schools has been weakened and replaced by no comparably reputable set of values and attitudes.
The Government needs to forge a revised concordat with the churches in education, allowing them a far greater role. They still own or sponsor nearly half of all educational institutions in Jamaica. The churches and trusts that sponsor schools remain – despite many weaknesses – valuable and available sources of moral instruction.
The honesty, loyalty, and considerations of decency which are required for character development are what the schools need now in order for children to be ready to undertake advancement in academic and vocational subjects. The bottom line is that attitudinal and behavioural change have to become centerpieces of education practice as never before. The crisis in our schools is more social than academic or infrastructural.
Next time, we will consider how to transform the 15-year-old process of educational transformation.
Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to email@example.com.