Education Transformation Commission must not be another waste of time and money


Education Transformation Commission must not be another waste of time and money

Sunday, July 26, 2020

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The establishment by the Government of a commission on education transformation, tasked with conducting a comprehensive review of the structure and operations of Jamaica's education system, is indeed timely.

It is important because education is the single most important component of economic and social development, both for the society as a whole and as a legitimate mechanism for the social mobility of poor individuals.

The documented evidence is that for countries at all levels of development, there is a direct correlation between the effectiveness of the education system and the rate of sustainable economic growth.

The effectiveness of education is not a function only of the amount spent on it. The commission will have to undertake a rigorous evaluation of whether Jamaica is getting value for the money it spends on education.

For example, one of the few bright spots is the high global ranking of The University of the West Indies (UWI), which the Government is sadly under-funding, perhaps because of a lack of resources.

A 2018 World Bank report points out that while Jamaican children get 11.7 years of schooling, this is in reality the equivalent of only 7.2 years when the quality of learning is taken into account.

Indeed, there is an illusion of education as many graduates of the high school system are neither employment-ready nor have a foundation for higher education. The result is expenditure on various forms of post-secondary remedial training.

Part of the problem is the curriculum which underserves the STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — which contributes to the low productivity of hard-working Jamaican labour.

We think the leadership of the commission is in safe hands with Professor Orlando Patterson, a distinguished sociology scholar of Harvard University, who brings high calibre intellect and vast knowledge.

He served as special advisor to late Prime Minister Michael Manley from 1972 to 1979, and although resident abroad, he has been thinking about Jamaica, as is evident in his November 2019 book: The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Post-colonial Predicament.

We note that the commission includes 14 members, all eminent individuals selected from various parts of the education system and the private sector. However, there are some gaps that should be filled by adding a student, ideally from a tertiary institution, so that the commission will have experience from all levels of the education system.

It is also not too late to add a professor from The UWI School of Education which has produced a considerable amount of valuable research on education policy.

The recurring concern, of course, is: Will the policy recommendation from the report of the commission be implemented or will the report be another important document that is discussed in Cabinet and perhaps in Parliament only to gather dust afterwards?

If the experience of the 2004 report produced by the Education Task Force chaired by Dr Rae Davis is indicative of how we intend to treat this current effort, then it would be a waste of our time and money.

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