Thwaites: No such thing as free education
Former minister wants quality prioritised, says Gov’t can’t fund good schooling for all
Reverend Ronald Thwaites believes that while Jamaica’s education sector has come a far way since 1962, more effort must be made to ensure that the issues affecting the quality of education students receive are fully resolved.
While addressing the MoBay City Run 2023 scholarship presentation ceremony at the Sandals Montego Bay Resort in St James on Thursday, the former education identified students’ attendance rates and the rising costs of school books among the factors affecting Jamaica’s educational output.
Thwaites is the national coordinator for education for Catholic schools in Jamaica.
“Jamaica has achieved access to education at all levels in an unparalleled way; it is a blessing. And now we have to turn to the issue of quality to ensure that we are offering quality education, not just a place to sit down. We need to look at and value what we have, as there are some things we need to correct,” said Thwaites.
“September morning has come and gone and still, in our schools throughout Jamaica today, we note that the attendance rate is only about 80 per cent. That means that there are 20 per cent of students who are missing at least one whole day of school a week. Think of how dangerous and difficult that makes things,” Thwaites said.
“Forty per cent of our children do not do any homework, and, sadly, some 30 per cent of our children come to school hungry. The average book list runs into tens of thousands of dollars and, unfortunately, transportation cost is a major contributor to that unacceptably high absentee rate.”
The Ministry of Education and Youth announced last May that it would launch an attendance app in an effort to identify and correct the issue of students being consistently absent from classes, as well as determine why those students are missing classes.
Last December, it was reported that some 7,000 students had yet to return to the classroom for the 2022-2023 academic year, despite its efforts to re-engage unaccounted-for students during the heights of the pandemic.
Thwaites also suggested that the input of all education stakeholders, including parents and students, must receive greater priority, instead of focusing only on free education without considering how it is financed.
“Education is a community effort, as it involves parents, teachers, benefactors, the Government, and students themselves. Nothing of value in life is for free, and we make a mistake when we say we support free education. Good education is not free; it is a question of who pays,” said Thwaites.
“We have a goodly heritage in that our taxpayers’ money has been spent liberally on education over the years. It is to the credit of succeeding governments that they have done so, even though it is not enough,” Thwaites continued.
“I believe we are making a mistake by putting it in people’s heads that the Government can pay for good education for all of us. It cannot, and it never will be able to.”