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EDITORIAL - Gathering storm over private education

Published:Saturday | June 16, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica appears to be at a crossroads in its educational development because of the grave economic challenges that face the sector. The latest disclosure that many private schools are so weighed down by debt that they are on the brink of extinction paints a grim picture.

Traditionally, we expect the Government to provide the resources to develop a country's human capital, but throughout the years the involvement in education of the private sector, including the Church, has contributed significantly to our progress.

Indeed, declining resources have seen the education budget stagnate for many years, and it is the private institutions that have filled the gaps as demand for education grew. Some private institutions have consistently produced spectacular results and their students have gone on to make great contributions to society, as their success in the classroom has followed them throughout their lives.

Today's education market is a highly competitive one, and students and their parents are always seeking to find the best options to achieve their objective of attaining a good education. Some private schools are able to attract and retain quality teachers and students. They charge, and presumably are able to collect, enormous fees in an environment that radiates elitism.

But these are in the minority. By and large, private schools are finding it difficult to survive. We cannot ignore the thorny issue of delinquency by parents who want their children to be educated but are unable to pay for it. Parents who have failed to live up to their obligations should face the consequences, even if it means taking legal action.

Inherent weakness

Private education is a business and must be run on an entrepreneurial basis. While the operators obviously have a passion for education, there appears to be an inherent weakness in the ability of many such operators to keep their eyes on the bottom line. The answer cannot be to seek a bailout from the Government.

The education dilemma is not unique to Jamaica. For example, many school administrators have responded to their challenges by staging recruitment fairs to attract foreign students. Some have even targeted Jamaicans at the secondary and tertiary levels. What is preventing our local private schools from getting together to stage their own recruitment drives overseas? Shouldn't independent schools be seeking to build alliances and cooperate as they pursue the business of education?

It is a fact that many schools have no opportunity to earn revenue from extra-curricular activities. Perhaps the time is ripe for them to create new initiatives that will ensure that during the long summer break, schools are used for revenue generation. To its credit, the University of the West Indies has taken the competition seriously by offering new courses, upgrading the physical plant and building new accommodation.

It is important that private schools survive so that they can complement the work of public schools in improving the country's human capital that comes about through the knowledge gained by obtaining certification at all levels.

The future for independent schools will not be worry-free, as we expect that even greater problems will confront them in the years ahead. It is critical that the education ministry, independent schools and school boards devise strategies for economic sustainability and survival.

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