There was once a civics textbook in Jamaican schools. The presence of this book was indicative of the fact that there was a vision for our education system to produce patriotic and civic-minded citizens. The removal of the text from the national curriculum could be construed as a shifting of priorities in regard to desired curriculum outcomes and an understanding of the kind of Jamaican that we wish to graduate from our school system. If this vision for our education system to produce patriotic and civic-minded citizens is still alive then, as educators, we must ask ourselves some hard questions about the existing national curriculum and its ability to achieve this outcome. We must anchor our reflective inquiry on this matter in the reality of today's society and the education route that we have taken on our post-independence quest for self-governance.
In response to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Jamaica is among several UN member countries to have articulated a national development plan (NDP) with most goals to be realised by the year 2030. It is interesting to note that the second MDG is the achievement of universal primary education and the second national outcome articulated in Jamaica's NDP has to do with education. This outcome is articulated under the first NDP goal of Jamaicans being empowered to achieve their fullest potential. Here "world-class education and training" is to be employed with other interventions such as an "authentic and transformational culture" to achieve this goal.
The concept of an authentic culture is one that I will not attempt to disambiguate. I will however take the risk with the matter of a transformational culture. I will dare to ask, what is the high ideal articulated for education in the NDP? The planned outcome seems to advance beyond the benchmark of literacy and implies a skill set that goes beyond the purely academic into moral reasoning that leads to choices that create communities where respect, tolerance and decency abound. I believe that this has to be articulated as an outcome for a NDP because, though our literacy rates have increased immensely since Independence, we have long been encountering a moral decline that has led to us being dubbed as the murder capital of the region. Long before the nation turned the corner of this new millennium, our social thinkers have been speaking to the issue of the moral decline. In the 1995 Dr Lucien Jones delivered the GraceKennedy Foundation lecture under the theme 'The Jamaican Society: Options for renewal'. Several points were articulated in that discussion that are still relevant to any discussion on social change which in verity is what the NDP is. Jones said that, "the society is defined by the nature and quality of which exists between human beings". It can easily be inferred that if change is to be achieved in any society, then each individual in that society must see himself differently and by extension re-order his thinking about who he is in relation to others in his society. Jones posited that the renewal process must be led by education. He puts it this way:
"Education of our population must transcend the pragmatic need to produce a more highly trained, literate and numerate population to meet the demands of a technological age.... Education must, instead, ultimately seek to produce good men and women who understand themselves and their role in the community, and therefore be better able to relate to neighbour, to the environment and to God."
We have advanced almost two decades away from this quoted discourse and seem no closer to renewal than we were then. Indeed many would agree that our crime indices can attest that we are farther away from renewal than we were then. One thing is certain, if we are to move toward renewal and achieve same by 2030 -- to the degree where Jamaica is 'the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business' -- we must embark upon extensive social intervention led by education.
We would however need to follow on with an examination of our history and culture and determine from our findings if the past and current outcomes articulated for the national curriculum can be applied to the future. We must then revisit and agree on the profile of the educated Jamaican that we wish to see by the year 2030. This must follow with us mapping the smaller steps that we will use to arrive at this composite. We must revisit and arrive at consensus as to what we value most in this society, and find a way to infuse this into the formal curriculum. We must, on the journey to identifying our values, determine from whence these values are derived. When the framers of the formal curriculum are clear on these matters, then these values can be presented as enduring understanding to be carried away from formal learning at all levels. These values must speak clearly to what is accepted as moral in our Jamaican society. We would be hard-pressed to find a greater platform for morality in our society outside of our Christian ethos. We may however be unsure as to whether we can use Christian ethos to advance formal education. In this regard, we are challenged by the assertion of Knight (2006) that: "The classroom is an axiological theatre in which teachers cannot hide their moral selves." Educational practitioners must clarify, along with the society that they serve, what the source of their values are, because they will live out their moral beliefs in their classroom whether they plan to or not. I hasten to add that building a moral construct and identifying its source does not supersede the need for tolerance and inclusion in our societies.
We cannot be merely academic in our application of education. Delpit (2006) holds that children are inheritors of the future, and as such, education must do much more than prepare them academically, it must pay attention to their character. One might fear that if we focus on character development, if we clarify values and call them Christian values in this post-modern era, then we are encouraging bigotry and counter educational teaching tactics such as indoctrination. The reality is, education ought always to be intelligent discourse that is a kind of social transaction between the various stakeholders in a society. As such it can be regulated by these stakeholders and thus protected against abuse of any sort.
Education can be seen as delivering a body of knowledge, demanding mastery in a set of skills, and encouraging certain dispositions in learners. In the various programmes of education, at any given level, a learner should become a steward of the discipline taught, a reflective inquirer who can demonstrate certain competencies, and a mindful user of the composite content and skills. A value-based system of education focuses on all three areas, but pays keen attention to the disposition of the learner. Students in the formal system of learning cannot be left to find their way through the maze of moral development. They cannot form what Kohlberg dubs as universal ethical principles unless they are given a reference point for those principles. It is true that we will need more than education. We will need societal leaders who will epitomise our values in their own living. We cannot, however, move forward without values-based education.
Jamaican has already conceded to this truth. Who can forget the Values and Attitudes programme of the Patterson era? Can we therefore find the social, moral and political will to advance formal instruction in values and attitudes?