Thu | Jan 27, 2022

Ronald Thwaites | Orlando Patterson and the future of education

Published:Monday | January 10, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Professor Orlando Patterson
Professor Orlando Patterson

‘The Reform of Education in Jamaica 2021’ is the title of the report prepared by the Professor Orlando Patterson-led team, due to be released this week. Their findings are grim; their recommendations, hopeful. The consideration of the report by...

‘The Reform of Education in Jamaica 2021’ is the title of the report prepared by the Professor Orlando Patterson-led team, due to be released this week. Their findings are grim; their recommendations, hopeful. The consideration of the report by Cabinet (I hope all have had the stomach to read the whole of it!) must have impelled our Prime Minister last week at the prayer service ( for the first time at last) to identify getting the youth back to school as being the most pressing among national priorities.

“The Government of Jamaica is committing significant resources to education, but the returns are well below what is acceptable. This disconnect between spend and results is due in large part to the lack of accountability across the system, as well as issues in the administration of the education system” (op. cit. page 28).

How will you respond to that, Minister Clarke? Or you, Mr JTA? Remember the spanking you and many in the political directorate gave a minister in 2013-14 for the mildest proposals about accountability?

There’s more from the report. “The 2004 Taskforce on Education recommended that the Ministry of Education ... renegotiate the leave entitlements of teachers and principals and implement scheduled vacation leave during school holidays only... . Currently, teachers spend approximately 14 weeks outside of the classroom ... . In 2013, the cost of study and vacation leave to the Government was estimated at roughly $2.5 billion per year and a further ... $574 million, at that time, was owed to schools for substitute teachers” (page 156).

PAY TEACHERS PROPERLY

It can’t go on like this. Pay teachers properly, renegotiate leave, and require accountability. That’s the way to go, which is completely impossible without both political parties agreeing with the profession on a fair solution. One previous minister of education (he remembers who he is) from whom I sought advice on coming to office, counselled me not to touch the arrangements with the teaching profession if I wanted to succeed. Was he right?

Check out the report’s proposals regarding the financing of education. Most far-reaching is the irrefutable contention that investment in early-childhood education produces so much public and private social good that the sector should be funded from monies now being spent (by HEART et al) on vocational training.

And more: the “public commitment of financing to pre-primary education appears (sic!) to be inadequate ... . Jamaica can benefit from a systematic and programmed re-allocation of public funds from other levels of education to pre-primary education” (page 275).

Then comes the ‘mash down’ of the deception that the Government is paying or can finance the cost of quality education: “The system of parental contributions should involve a progressive system of school fees, wherein middle- and high-income households are required to contribute to financing the cost of their children’s education, while poor households that cannot afford such contributions are exempt (but are the beneficiary of a comparable level of per student state support).” (page 275)

So the big question is whether, as a society, we are prepared to demand and pay for the range and standard of education and training which is the only key to progress or prosperity, and which is entirely possible and affordable if we stop the ‘teefing’, wastage and poorly chosen priorities. Every nationalist must be prepared to support the administration to these ends. But do they want the help?

The Patterson Report deserves wide and in-depth public discussion. There are several areas that merit greater attention. The fundamental ethical and religious values which make for a fruitful and generous living are not treated adequately. Nor is the benefit to be derived from a renewed and expanded covenant with the churches that own or sponsor almost half of all public and private schools, especially in the early-childhood sector.

Much more attention to infusing the principles of the committed family life that both Andrew and Mark spoke so feelingly about last week, is required. With great respect, also, I think the report grossly underestimates the social and educational fallback occasioned by COVID-19 and the extent of remediation required.

Professor Patterson and his eminent team have brought the country to a tipping point. We should be grateful to them for laying bare what many have been afraid or blind to acknowledge. The measure of our response will determine everything about our future.

Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.