Tue | Dec 6, 2022

Kristen Gyles | Time now for education reparation

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2022 | 12:09 AM
Tertiary education is so expensive that many students are starting programmes they don’t have money to pay for, hoping to get through on a combination of go-fund-me pages, scholarships, loans and part-time jobs.
Tertiary education is so expensive that many students are starting programmes they don’t have money to pay for, hoping to get through on a combination of go-fund-me pages, scholarships, loans and part-time jobs.

Some Jamaicans are always ready to compare the country’s rate of progress to that of well-developed economies. It is always “Sweden’s education system” this and “Japan’s innovation hub” that. But it is never a contextual discussion that...

Some Jamaicans are always ready to compare the country’s rate of progress to that of well-developed economies. It is always “Sweden’s education system” this and “Japan’s innovation hub” that. But it is never a contextual discussion that acknowledges that Jamaica, as a colony of primarily African descendants, started the race towards economic development half-maimed and wounded from the effects of slavery while watching other countries bask in wealth that had been either accumulating for centuries or that had been plundered from other territories.

The discussion surrounding reparations has been prejudiced, I think, by the fear that were we to receive reparations, the Government would end up getting a lump-sum of cash, and half of it would go missing over the course of a few years. The legitimacy of such fears aside, there are many ways in which the country could solicit reparations. My proposal here is not only corruption-proof, but targets one of the most underfunded areas of our economy: education.

One of the greatest challenges to our development as a country is education inequality. It is a challenge to our development because it fuels social inequality, which breeds corruption and crime. Education is supposedly the key to success, but this magical key has become very elusive and inaccessible to the average Jamaican.

Slowly but steadily, we seem to be returning to a time when only rich people could afford education. No longer does the ‘free’ secondary level education profit much, economically speaking, since it will not qualify you to get meaningful employment. Secondary education is now as basic to students growing up as third grade education was to the Independence generation 60 years ago. The conversation now needs to update itself to acknowledge tertiary education as the new baseline for social and economic survival within society.

EXPENSIVE

Notwithstanding all that, tertiary education is so expensive that many students are starting programmes they don’t have money to pay for, hoping to get through on a combination of go-fund-me pages, scholarships, loans, and part-time jobs.

By the way, the education system can’t run on scholarships. There simply aren’t enough, and frankly, students shouldn’t have to exhibit extraordinary talent in order to get an education. But that is an aside. Tertiary education must become accessible to all classes of people, whereas it is currently inaccessible to many.

Then there is the issue of the education system itself, which is severely underfunded. What changes things for some schools is that they have thriving old girls’ and old boys’ associations with wealthy alumni who can ‘give back’ bountifully to their schools.

It is great that people give back. What is not great is that for a school to have a functional biology lab and a library that actually has computers in it, the school has to rely on the charity of private groups. Such a state of affairs only perpetuates the inequality because the schools that benefit the most from this type of charity are the most likely to churn out students geared for economic success who will then form part of the next generation of people wealthy enough to ‘give back’.

To add insult to injury, secondary school teachers are being paid little and given minimal support, stifling the growth of an already strained secondary education system. If a solid secondary education isn’t guaranteed, what is?

With that said, if Britain truly desires to make good on the wrongs of the past, here is one way in which it can to do it.

UPGRADED EDUCATION SYSTEM

We need an upgraded education system – a state-of-the-art university, with facilities and infrastructure that can compare with Oxford and Cambridge. We need all tertiary-education programmes in all Jamaican universities to be free to students. So the Jamaican Government can continue to pay its current subvention and Britain can pay the balance. This is simply an affirmative action to reduce the effects of the handicap faced by a largely uneducated populace. Our secondary schools also need to be fully furnished with the equipment students now have to be taking turns to use. All the floundering school-feeding programmes and library-renovation projects – those need a boost, too.

The slave trade has had a direct hand in creating an apartheid of education in Jamaica. For many post-slavery years in Jamaica, ordinary people of African descent did not have an education system that served their needs. They stood on the fringes of a society which featured an education system designed specifically for the so-called upper class. That inequality has trickled down to the present and still impacts the opportunities available to Jamaicans today.

So no, this is not ancient history, and no, Jamaica should not just move on. It has been literally three short generations since the abolition of slavery. The Government ought to make the necessary solicitations for the country to be compensated for the crippling effects of the slave trade.

The concept of reparations is also nothing new. Contrary to the impressions given by the rabid opposers of the call for reparations, many oppressed peoples have been paid reparations. Most notably, Germany has paid the equivalent of roughly US$90 billion in reparations to Jewish holocaust victims, not including what it has paid to the State of Israel.

This is important to mention because sometimes I think the problem is an inferiority complex some Jamaicans suffer from that has them thinking that Africans simply don’t deserve restitution.

Why have other groups been compensated but not Africans? Is it simply a matter of racial prejudice? For years, stubborn, stiff-necked Jamaicans have been arguing with one another about why we should forget about reparations. With such a clear display of disunity, coupled with lukewarm and indecisive leadership, will we ever achieve it?

Kristen Gyles is a free-thinking public affairs opinionator. Send feedback to kristengyles@gmail.com.