Quality of education vs certification – a debate whose time has come

Sunday, November 18, 2018

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Jamaican society has become obsessed with certification because this is seen as the best route to securing employment and migration. The political need to increase the number of people at all levels of the education system in response to the public drive for certification has made an annual increase in the number of graduates the criterion for success in education policy.

This obsession is the antithesis of education — the key to the future economic development of Jamaica — because the quality of education and its usefulness to employment may have been put a risk. The dilemma of increased certification versus quality and functionality of education is a debate whose time has come in Jamaica.

Employers complain that too many high school graduates are weak in spoken and written standard English, mathematically illiterate, and have no foundation in science. In addition, school life has left a lot to be desired in punctuality, comportment, discipline, ability to concentrate, and ability to be a team member. The result is the need for on-the-job remedial training and a plethora of post-secondary institutions to repair the inadequacies of years in the high school system.

The most graphic indicator of the failure of the primary and secondary education system is the fast-growing sector extra lessons, which often deprive children of sleep, recreation and most of all, self-confidence. This overwork of children risks instilling a dislike for school and learning.

The entire education system is weak in STEM subjects. It is too late to correct this deficiency when students reach university level. That is why The University of the West Indies, rated in the top five per cent in the world's universities by Times Higher Education, graduates more lawyers than engineers.

The reverse is true in many Asian countries and contributes to their economic success in a global economy driven by rapid technological change. Ironically, the rate at which Jamaicans with the least education learn and master new phone and computer technology shows that there is no lack of natural aptitude.

We would like to have some reassurance from the University Council of Jamaica (UCJ) about the standards in some of our non-university degree-granting institutions which include theological colleges, community colleges, teachers' colleges and foreign universities.

The UCJ accredits degree programmes by establishing standards and evaluating against these standards. Are these standards comparable to international standards and are all institutions meeting these standards? Are the degrees recognised and accepted outside of Jamaica?

The distinction has to be made for an institution being registered as to whether it has accredited programmes. We know, for example, of at least one institution which has no accredited programmes listed at this time. Registration is a pre-accreditation status. Why is registration allowed if there are no accredited programmes? And could an institution be registered while having several programmes or degrees which are not accredited?

The education system at all levels needs to respond to the demand for certification in a responsible way, and that means maintaining the standards which assure the quality of education that certification implies.

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