Sat | Aug 13, 2022

Editorial | Involve Jamaicans on Patterson report

Published:Sunday | June 5, 2022 | 12:11 AM

We are happy that the Government appears, finally, to be really acting on the Patterson Commission’s recommendations for reforming Jamaica’s education system. We are nonetheless concerned that the approach signalled last week by the education minister, Fayval Williams, and the report’s author, Professor Orlando Patterson, could end in only marginally better outcomes than previous efforts at arresting the island’s learning crisis: with a lot of money spent and little to show for it.

Our queasiness arises from the apparently overly top-down implementation strategy that’s on the agenda, without a robust engagement of the Jamaican public and little opportunity to get their input and buy-in. If this were to be the case, it would be an inexcusable faux pas by the administration, given that it had had the report in hand for more than half a year. Which, in part, negates arguments that the urgency of the circumstance compels it to act.

Indeed, it was for this reason that this newspaper consistently highlighted the findings of the report and insisted on a public discussion of the document. At least, we should know what the Government, especially the education ministry, thinks of them. Of course, anyone can initiate such a debate, but the real obligation lies with the Government, which should not only articulate and implement policy but justify how, and why, it spends taxpayers’ money.

ACCEPTED FINDINGS

Until last Thursday, the only thing that we knew, or more accurately, surmised of the Government’s position on the Patterson report is that the administration had accepted its findings, apparently in their entirety. We assumed this because in mid-March Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who appointed the Patterson Commission, announced that the economist/financial market analyst, Dr Adrian Stokes, would chair a committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations. The other members of that committee haven’t yet been publicly disclosed.

However, on a visit with Minister Williams to his old high school, Kingston College, Professor Patterson disclosed that Dr Stokes’ Education Transformation Oversight Committee (ETOC) will have an “administrative officer”, who, we assume, will be akin to its CEO, responsible for the committee’s day-to-day operational activities.

“We’re hoping all of this will be through by September 2022, so we can start seeing the implementation done step by step,” said Professor Patterson.

Added Ms Williams: “[We will be] working with ETOC to ensure Jamaicans understand the priority areas, the sequencing and the progress that’s being made towards getting the implementation of these important recommendations.”

But telling citizens what are the Government’s priorities, and how it intends to sequence implementation, is not quite the same as getting people involved, especially for a national project in which Jamaicans ought to be deeply invested. And for many of the reasons highlighted by Professor Patterson in his report.

Jamaica cannot continue to approach problems in the same fashion and expect a fundamental shift in the dynamics, whether in education or anything else.

Indeed, the Patterson Commission wasn’t the first group of eminent Jamaicans to be asked to recommend ways to stem, and reverse, the deep deficits in the island’s education outcomes, which persists although, as a percentage (5.2 per cent) of its gross domestic product, the island outspends most of its Caribbean peers, and is on par with many developed countries, on education. In 2004, the Rae Davis Task Force undertook very much the same assignment as the Patterson Commission. Both arrived at many of the same conclusions and recommendations/solutions.

CONTINUED TO SLIP

Yet, as Professor Patterson highlighted in his report, despite the expenditure of US$101 million, in the wake of the Davis Task Force report, to establish various oversight and regulatory bodies and agencies, performance has continued to slip – a fact made starker by the introduction of a new exam for primary school leavers that emphasises reasoning over learning by rote.

One third of grade six students, the Patterson report noted, can’t, or can barely read. Fifty-six per cent can scarcely write. Fifty-eight per cent can’t find information on a topic, even if the information is in a written sentence before them. A mere 28 per cent of high school students pass five subjects or more in a single sitting at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams, with maths and English being among the lot. Passes have declined in the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination.

The Patterson Commission proposes a wide range of fixes for this crisis, stretching from an overhaul of the education ministry and the methods for evaluating the performance of schools and their leaders, to changes in how resources are allocated to schools, taking into account, among other things, the demographics and the ability of parents to contribute to the funding of their children’s education.

Some of these proposals are politically sensitive and, in some instances, might collide with the policy posture (even if not formal policy) of the Government. For example, even parents who can afford to contribute often decline to pay ‘auxiliary fees’, citing the Government’s say-so.

Overcoming such obstacles will demand deep support – the public’s buy-in. But people must know what they are being asked to support and why. Ordinary folks, too, may even have suggestions on how things might be tweaked and improved. But that can’t happen if people are not engaged. Even at this stage, the effort should be made.

One of the reasons for the weak returns of the Rae Davis Task Force is that public buy-in wasn’t sought and engendered. The bureaucrats held sway. That mistake shouldn’t be repeated.