Education needs united action
All across Jamaica this morning students, parents and teachers are astir with back-to-school activities.
'Free paper bun', and it's back to the serious business of preparing young minds for a future we all hope will be bright and prosperous.
Spare a thought for the very young ones, entering a strange new world for the first time after being snug and protected at home for the first few years of their lives.
Of course, the difficulties affecting education in Jamaica are at a far more critical level than those confronting our young first-timers.
Recent disappointing CSEC results in mathematics and English A have highlighted shortcomings in how such subjects are taught and also perhaps the need for all stakeholders to adjust to the demands of an age in which high-tech gadgetry captivate our young people.
Harsh and worsening economic times are taking a heavy toll. Many children who turn out today will find it harder and harder to maintain regular attendance as their parents and guardians struggle to cover bus fare, lunch and other expenses.
We share the pain of Education Minister Rev 'Ronnie' Thwaites as he pleads with his own Government for more funds to be allocated to the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) to assist the poorest in schools. The harsh reality is that the Government, cash-strapped and struggling to negotiate a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, has little or no room to manoeuvre.
There is the ongoing dichotomy at the primary level of some schools that are overcrowded with a much too high student to teacher ratio; and others with such low attendance that they are on the verge of closure as parents send their children long distances to favoured schools. As Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth Mr Richard Parchment has said, the situation begs for a rational system of zoning so children will attend schools closest to them.
At the secondary level, overcrowding means the accursed two-shift system must remain. We wish Rev Thwaites well as he pursues "partnerships" in a bid to involve private sector investors in providing more school places.
Transportation remains a nightmarish issue with far too many of our children only able to arrive home at nights - sometimes after crossing parish borders.
And even as there are issues with under-performing teachers, there are 2,000 young, newly trained unable to secure jobs.
The weight of the problems are such, we could be tempted to think there is no light. And yet Jamaicans should recognise that education in this country has taken giant strides over the past 50 years since political Independence in 1962. Just as an indicator, consider that 50 years ago, our high schools were so few they could be easily counted on the fingers. And access was for only the very privileged.
Today, education as the universal means of upward mobility is embraced by and accessible to Jamaicans of all walks of life.
As we have said, the difficulties are numerous and burdensome. But if as a people we can all pull together we can ensure every young Jamaican attends school and is equipped to learn.
We have repeatedly said it in this space and we say it again: Each and everyone has a responsibility to ensure that the child next door goes to school. It may require donations for lunch, bus fare, books.
If we can do that, we will have made a huge difference. And when all is said and done it is enlightened self-interest.