Transform education philosophy, urges Mitchell
More than 55 years after achieving political Independence from Britain, Jamaica’s education and national-development strategies remain grounded in a 19th-century mindset designed by colonial masters to keep descendants of slaves shackled.
President of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Howard Mitchell, yesterday made this accusation while delivering the keynote address at the TVET in Action 2019 forum hosted by the HEART Trust/NTA at The Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston.
“The main purpose for funding our highly differentiated, exclusionary and stratified education and training system was reflected in keeping the children of former slaves in regular and continuous labour and docile and peaceful while increasing the productivity of the nation. I am able to show, if you wish to challenge me to do so, that up until very recently, these motivations have not been questioned and that much of our education today follows the teaching methodologies that were formed by the use of the Negro Education Grant. We are educated to be productive in keeping with whatever are the current policies of the state,” Mitchell declared.
The Negro Education Grant, approved by the House of Commons in 1834, was the foundation of Jamaica’s education system, the lawyer/businessman explained, in keeping with the Emancipation provisions of former enslaved Africans in the British West Indian colonies.
This, according to the PSOJ president, was articulated by former prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1830-1834, Lord Howick, as follows: “The great problem to be solved in drawing up any plan for the emancipation of the slaves was to devise some mode of inducing them, when relieved from the fear of the slave driver and his whip, ... to undergo the regular and continuous labour which was essential to the production of sugar.”
Even though presented with the opportunity to create a new template for real regional growth and development more than two decades ago, local policymakers have been unable to make the quantum mental leap to trigger wide-scale critical thinking in Jamaica’s population, according to Mitchell.
“We have not, for the most part, been educated in the terms of the 1997 declaration by the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) heads of government as to the profile of the ideal Caribbean citizen/worker, capable of seizing the economic opportunities which the global environment is presenting, demonstrating multiple literacies, including foreign-language skills, [and] independent and critical thinking. Neither have they developed the capacity to control, improve and maintain and promote physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being and contribute to the health and welfare of their community and country,” he said.
As a result, Jamaica is at serious risk of being left behind in this fast-evolving world.
Mitchell explained: “We need to understand that much of the skills training we are delivering today will be globally obsolete in seven to 10 years. Scientific and technological changes are occurring at blinding speed. The internal combustion engine, for example, will soon be an antique curiosity replaced by the electric engine. Developments in electronics make it necessary for electronic technicians to be constantly learning new skills. Solar energy technology has created new occupations that were never dreamed of. Life is, now more than ever, a process of continuous learning and of agile, adaptive development.”
Sticking to the theme of the forum, ‘Fostering National Development through Partnerships’, the POSJ president went on to debunk some of the strategies pursued by successive Jamaican administrations.
“When we hear our leaders exhorting us to increase production to increase growth, we must be very clear as to the difference between growth and development. Growth, in the context that we are using it today, means an increase in our gross domestic product, pure and simple. It does not take into account inequality of distribution, marginalisation of income, or extreme stratification of the society.
“Development, on the other hand, in the national context, means becoming more advanced in meeting the needs of all of our people without compromising the needs of future generations,” said Mitchell.