Education: Science versus dumplings

Louis Moyston

Wednesday, July 04, 2012    

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"No longer can any nation hope to develop its resources, care properly for the modern needs of its people or be counted among the important industrial or agricultural (nations) if it neglects technical education."

— Ellwood Cubberley, 1920 History of Education.

THE problem with education and underdevelopment in Jamaica cannot be blamed on grammar school education. It is important to look at the system of education in order to begin a meaningful dialogue on its problems. To argue that we should abandon grammar school education and replace it with technical and vocational education presents no meaningful agenda for change. The ROSE curriculum, by the Government of Jamaica and the International Bank of Reconstruction (IBRD), poses far more danger to education and change than the grammar school curriculum.

The history of technical education in Jamaica is associated with practical and industrial learning, with little or no techne (science) involved in that process. It appears that the system of technical education in ex-slave territories took on a different meaning from its genesis in the European and American tradition. An examination into the history of technical education in those countries shows that some trade training centres, mandated to take science to the common practices in everyday life, developed and mushroomed into major universities. In those experiences technical education is defined in a scientific context. Can we say the same about trade training centres and technical education in Jamaica?

Education, whether academic or technical, has to do with the development of the responsible and the thinking person. It has to do with more than creating labourers and workers. It is about science, not dumplings. It emphasises creative, imaginative and innovative qualities versus practical education as defined by the Negro Education Act of 1835. An inquiry into the development of 18th century industrial societies in Europe and the USA shows that technical education, defined by science, was advanced to direct the future of those states. By the 19th century there was a worldwide thrust among "important" states of science curriculum for secondary schools and "an expansion in educational service... dealing with applications of science to the national life".

According to the source, "No extension instruction into new fields has ever yielded material benefits, increased productivity, alleviated suffering or multiplied comfort... as has this new development in applied scientific education." It is this "applied science" that defines technical education. France and Germany had the earliest experience of formalising the tradition of Roman military engineering into trade schools and technical institutes that evolved into some of the earliest tertiary institutions in modern history. One report on German education in the mid-1800s boasted that the strength of the country's industrial production and commerce depended on its "practical utilisation of the result of scientific research in Germany and other countries".

The USA has an interesting and instructive lesson in anti-colonial education. It seems that after 1776 that country looked to France and Germany for lessons in technical and military institutions to advance scientific curriculum in education. The 1803 establishment of West Point (for the Army) marked the "beginning of American technical education". The story continues with the emergence of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824 as a manual labour school following the blueprint of the Fallenberg plan, "to give instruction in the applications of science to the common purposes of life". By 1850 these trade training centres bloomed into fruitful four-year engineering colleges. In 1840 Annapolis was created for the US Navy and in 1861 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was founded. It is important to observe the role of the state in enacting the "Morrill Land Grant Policy (1862)" and its role in the process of development of technical institutes and agricultural schools in every state in that country. These institutions were involved in the "applications of science to the common purposes of life".

The London Exhibition in1851 and The Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 gave meaning to scientific and engineering education in both countries. In the case of the USA, the exhibition was a manifestation of scientific and technical curriculum 100 years after its Independence from England. The history of technical education defines that curriculum beyond workforce and labour development. Technical institutes and schools were strategically located throughout the USA to stimulate development in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, construction of public projects, and contributed to the rise of America as an industrial power. That system produced informed workers and an extensive industrial base.

Should we have a technical/science reform education in Jamaica? Yes, we should have changes in our system to transform trade-training centres and technical schools into institutes that advance the "applications of science to the common purposes of life". In addition to science reform education in Jamaica, a Ministry of Science ought to be established to generate a new body of knowledge to maintain the country's infrastructure, to initiate new approaches to industrialisation and sustainable development.

It is important to develop a community campaign in scientific literacy, to apply technical education and training to the community to develop new features in capacity building and transformative social change. The state and the technical education and training institutes should embark on a deliberate initiative to inspire the development of small and medium-sized businesses. We need grammar schools and technical schools. We need to examine the applications of science to everyday living in order to improve the approach to education in this country. After 50 years of Independence, how do we measure material benefits, increased productivity, and the alleviation of suffering or increased comfort in this ex-slavery society? How do we measure progress?





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