Editorial

The future of labour in Jamaica

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

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Everyone knows that education is indispensable to economic development. It is accepted wisdom that achieving sustainable economic development requires substantial investment in human capital, thereby increasing productivity, which can only happen through education. Education also has a positive social effect on the quality of life of individuals and countries. This disposition was strengthened in the early 1960s by empirical evidence on the returns of education to economic growth and the impact of the quality of education on economic growth.

Almost no one doubts that science and technological innovation are vital to labour productivity and thereby to the international competitiveness of production of goods and services for local consumption and for exports to international markets. The capacity of the labour force to absorb new technology and apply it on a continuous basis is a basic requirement for economic development.

This can only happen if the education system of a country provides graduates of primary and secondary educational institutions with adequate mathematics and basic science along with the ability to read, write and speak English (the language of commerce and scientific publication).

The continuous flow of new technology means that people in every current form of employment have to be endowed by the school system with a capacity for life-long learning and retooling.

Technological change is destroying old, traditional labour-intensive employment and tools. This is the difference between the machete and the whacker. If one cannot read, understand and apply the instructions for mixing fuel, an expensive piece of equipment can be disabled. Similarly, driverless electric cars may eliminate drivers, gas stations and traffic lights. Technological innovation is going to create new forms of employment and require new job skills.

The very concept of employment could be changed by technology and the “standard” employment relationship, which is defined as a job that is continuous, full-time, with a direct relationship between employer and employee. For example Uber, the world's largest taxi company, owns no cars and employs no drivers.

There is not enough attention to mathematics and science at any level in our education system. More hours of teaching must be devoted to science and mathematics. The entire nature of the curriculum at the primary and secondary levels needs to be reorganised to produce graduates/workers who can be functional in the modern technology, driven world of the present and the future. Our universities need to turn out more graduates in sciences as compared with the humanities and the arts.

Increasing the number of science and technology tertiary level graduates can be accomplished without increasing expenditure on higher education if we spend differently and take more advantage of technology.

For example, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are rapidly transforming learning and distance teaching and they are being developed and propagated by virtually all universities, including the most highly rated ones. Similarly, at the primary and secondary levels, modern communications technology means that every child in Jamaica would be taught mathematics by the best teachers via television.

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