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A good plan, Prime Minister, but we need details

Monday, December 02, 2019

Today's world cries out for an education system that caters for science, technology, and critical thinking in a focused and dedicated way.

Jamaicans have been hearing for years from those who should know that if the country is to compete effectively in what is being termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution there has to be much greater emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, a former minister of education who earned better than a passing grade in that job — and who has chosen to take overall responsibility for the portfolio following the dismissal of Mr Ruel Reid — is manifestly a believer.

We note that in his recent speech to the faithful at his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) annual conference, Mr Holness spoke of plans for his Government to build six dedicated STEM-based schools in partnership with Chinese investment.
The prime minister told Labourites that, “If we are going to survive as a people in this new age of technology we now need to make the investment in a new kind of education for our children...”

As we understand it, the overall policy of the Ministry of Education and the curriculum dictated to high schools is increasingly towards critical thinking, and project-based STEM education, and has been for some time.

A 2015 feature published by this newspaper spoke of the satisfaction of parents and teachers at the progress towards project-based education being made at that time at Sydney Pagon STEM Academy in Elim, St Elizabeth.

Back then, the stated position was that Sydney Pagon — first built in 1979 as an institution dedicated to agriculture on 200 acres of land — was to have been a sort of pilot project for STEM education in Jamaica.

Indeed, our understanding is that the newly introduced high school entrance process, Primary Exit Profile (PEP), which has replaced the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT), is part and parcel of the thrust towards critical thinking and project-based, STEM education.

A major problem for high schools is that allocation of resources in terms of material and personnel have not matched stated ambition — which is understandable, given economic constraints and International Monetary Fund (IMF) dictated austerity programmes.

Also, high school spaces remains very inadequate; hence, the extreme overcrowding at some institutions and continuance of the much-criticised two-shift system, which makes life very difficult for students, teachers, and parents.
It is against that backdrop that we welcome Mr Holness's plans for those six new schools.

Yet, in light of his comments in making the announcement at his party's conference, it is clear that the prime minister needs to say much more in order to make himself clear.

For one thing, he told his audience that the centres of excellence will not fall under the nation's Education Act — which has been under review for years.
Like many others, we are extremely puzzled.

We hear that the prime minister has sought to clarify his position in a radio interview.

It seems to this newspaper that he needs to come to the nation with a detailed, comprehensive explanation — most preferably in Parliament.