Up to a few months ago all ministers accepted the education system as presented. The earth was flat, period. None questioned it and all had tried to get it to deliver. It is our 50th Jubilee but we have no gains which match our 1962 "top dog" status. For 50 years Cabinets toiled and got us the trappings of a modern state but not the reality. In education we spent multi billions, have experts and teachers but God-awful results. For generations schooling was provided by faith and private people, then the state intervened. We now have a replete education system. Men like Easter, Allen and Glasspole fixed its architecture and we live in it without question. Thwaites inherited the creaky, tripartite, two-dimension macro-education device - it should get bigger and better, just add money.
The disadvantaged in schools are now regular kids who study hard and get on with life. Spend on the awkward three per cent in time; cash, local and foreign experts, diagnostic tests (some $8,000 a pop) and meetings defy cost-benefit analysis. The per capita cost of this three per cent is multiples of the 97 per cent and the odds of success are long. Yet these micro elements occupy education prime time. They major in the minutiae, but who tracks the macro-education system? Therein lies the basis of the new paradigm.
First: The notion of education as investment is revolutionary yet intuitive; "we get it". For decades it was welfare, then a "child's right". Education is the mother of investments. No nation prospers if its people are uneducated. The ROI is massive so Cabinet must now affirm education is investment and embed it in law. But there are other exciting angles to this. Can legacy schools list on the stock exchange? Wolmer's is "Blue Chip" and could get cash for a new auditorium on the Junior Market - ask Mayberry! Do you see century-old JC going bust any time soon? List it! If the Ministry of Education brands, packages and lists its new schools each at $800 million, the shares would be snapped up here and in the diaspora. Boards would now vie for good principals and good staff and new money would flow into the teaching profession. Wow!
Second: Minister Thwaites' "education enterprise" is a time bomb. It is ticking. The notion "all children are mine" is not triumphalist rhetoric as it echoes Prime Minister Simpson Miller's child-centred mantra, but it raises issues. The state has not fully accepted the tripartite system (faith, state and business), nor its own accountability for all kids. It took the new lawyer minister to figure it out. De facto if not de jure, politically and practically the minister is accountable for all kids and through him Cabinet and Parliament too. This opens a new lesion. If every kid has the same rights, why are some schools more favoured? Is there a breed of lesser Jamaicans who produce lesser kids to go to the lesser schools? For 49 years we accept this inequity - should the state operate all schools? No! But all our kids are entitled to equal access to resources and it must start at basic school: "get it right the first time". If child rights mean anything, this is it. As the ministry mounts a study to get the metrics on the total education enterprise to be the basis of new policies on equity of access to education resources, Parliament should brace itself. It now falls again to a PNP Cabinet to implement a new paradigm in education; equal access to state resources no matter where the child is! Michael is smiling from above. We can't afford it, but how did we afford the results of the last 49 years? It cost us $1.7 billion debt. Equal, quality schools for all will pay it off. Bangarang!
Third: Cabinet, Parliament, and parents do not fully understand the implications of "get it right the first time". Early childhood education is the game changer. Up to age five, kids learn most things so we must ensure they are exposed to most things wherever they live or go to school. This would be a landmark Cabinet decision. The IMF may like it too as an educated population is the bankable collateral. Can the 2,300 basic schools with our "outside kids" be brought into the state system now? Which part of education or other ministry will take the haircut to fund this? Will the JTA support the thousands of idle teachers in depopulated schools being redeployed to where they are needed? Even basic schools? Will the PSOJ who pay most taxes and employ most school leavers put on pressure? Can Crayons Count be the provider of choice and Deika and Doughboy Butch run like crazy to get kit for these schools from 2013? But this is not the full story. What about the first three years of an infant's life? We need a mother-and-child plan from the second trimester to age three. We can use mass media and new media to beam the sensory messages into the home or playgroup. True!
Fourth: We are gradually beginning to celebrate "edupreneurs" who enrich the landscape with schools up to university level. The global recession is biting and schools are going under, but we still have kids so watch for a rebound. Work now under way will change the old 19th century macro-education architecture. As the ministry documents the non-state "supply side" it maps the "demand side" and soon reliable data at last to inform new policy initiatives.
Fifth: The lag in uptake of innovation in education is some 10 years. Transformation was built on a 1980s' chassis and Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) are of almost the same vintage. Most seminal changes here are based on old paradigms. We are early adopters in consumption, not production or change. The day will come when state-funded schools are a small part of nimble education constructs; when a re-visioned UTech produces patents and IP and listed on the exchange. The Yanks and Brits have not done it? So? We can do it! This 50th Jubilee Cabinet must now make a quantum shift in policy and funding of education. Put the best teachers and most resources in the early years. It is "bite the bullet" time for the macro-education system. Miss P, history beckons! Be the change! Do it for Michael and for us. Stay conscious, my friend!
Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.