Lascelve ‘Muggy’ Graham | Time to jump-start the education system
Since the time of slavery until now, the education system in Jamaica has failed and has blighted the future of the overwhelming majority of the children of Jamaica. This would be seen as alarming, unacceptable, a crisis of major proportions, except for the fact that it does not directly impact the sons and daughters of gentry, the powerful, the privileged. They can always pay for the level of education their children require, even if this means sending their children overseas. The result of this is the essentially benign neglect, offhanded treatment and under-resourcing of education, along with the slow incremental changes in the education system in Jamaica.
Many, too numerous to mention, have, through the years, cried out for meaningful change. More recently, several years ago, Prof Don Robotham screamed in a newspaper article that our education was in crisis. I have been listening to, for a long time, and reading articles by Prof Densil Williams pointing out the need for greater investment in education and the many economic benefits that would result therefrom. Similarly, I have been listening to Dr Canute Thompson and reading articles by him on education and the need for change, also for a long time now. Many others, including Ralston Hyman, economist, have consistently lamented the inadequacies of our education system. A former minister of education disclosed that in the region of 67 per cent of Jamaica’s workforce has no secondary certification. Captains of industry and others have repeatedly decried the system of education as apartheid. Teachers have cried out, parents have cried out, students have cried out. Yet, like Old Man River, we just keep rolling along. This prompts me to ask, like Bob Dylan did in his song, Blowin’ in the Wind, “how many ears must one person have before he can hear people cry? And, how many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see”?
Testicular Fortitude Needed
What will it take for the powers that be to do something of significance to change the education scenario? A number of people suggest that only violence will get the needed response. However, I sincerely hope that they are wrong, and that good sense will prevail and testicular fortitude will raise its head before long, thus obviating such a calamity.
I am told that there is a seat for every child from early childhood education to secondary school. The Common Entrance Exam, which was taken by prospective secondary school entrants, and offered more children from poor homes a chance to get a good education, was a step in the right direction. This was introduced in 1956 and metamorphosed into GSAT and later PEP. Of course, it was a quota system and was totally inadequate in terms of the number of children it excluded. Recently, mindful of the urgent need for change in our education system, the JTA president, Mr Jasford Gabriel, called for the scrapping of the PEP system of placement in secondary schools. The thinking is a step in the right direction. We need to have fundamental change in our education system. One of them is getting rid of the quota system which PEP, GSAT, and Common Entrance represent. If we seriously think about what needs to be in place before we can reasonably do away with PEP, and not just facilitate more mediocrity, we will come to the inevitable, the inexorable conclusion that the only way to do this is to ensure the delivery of quality education by all or the great majority of our institutions of learning. We will then need to look at how we can do this in a reasonable time. Once there is inequity re the delivery of quality education by our schools, the problems which now present will persist.
To achieve equity in the quality of education offered by our schools, we must start thinking differently about education. We need to acknowledge and accept that education is in crisis; in urgent need of fundamental change, and that our inadequate education system is grooming so many of our children for, and condemning them to, lives of crime, poverty, hardships, frustration and broken dreams. It has banished so many to the rubbish heap of life. In Jamaica, lack of education and deficiencies in education has shattered more lives than COVID-19 ever will. Education must become paramount in Jamaica. It must become our top priority. This will lead us to invest much more significantly in education, as is sorely required at this time. Education affects just about every activity in which a society participates, every aspect of our lives and well warrants the investment for which it has been crying out for all these years.
To make the difficult decisions and take the actions, which will be needed along the road to equity in the delivery of quality education, we must approach education change as we have attempted to do with COVID-19. It must involve the commitment of the whole government from the prime minister down, the opposition, the private sector and the rest of the populace. The education minister alone will not be able to effect the sea change, the paradigm shift, the cataclysmic movement required. This will entail very careful planning and implementation if we are going to have sustained, significant change in a reasonable time. It requires political will. Of course, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, since this has been done by a number of countries before, who took their education system from the bottom to where they are now recognised as among the best in the world.
With the JLP having recently achieved the overwhelming success that it did at the polls, with a prime minister who was a former minister of education, with a finance minister who is obviously one of our shining stars, and a minister of education with impeccable educational credentials, and with the upheavals already taking place in the education world, this is as good a time as any to finally jump-start our education process and accelerate along the road to equity.
Dr Lascelve ‘Muggy’ Graham is a former captain of the senior national football team.