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I had the privilege of listening to Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites address the workers of Northern Caribbean University at their annual colloquium on August 20, 2012.
He was passionate as he lamented the woes assailing early childhood education. He bemoaned the mockery to an educational process that has to spend so much on remedial work at the higher levels of the educational pyramid. "Do it right the first time," he emphasised.
Responding to suggestions to make it more attractive to work at the lower levels of the educational system, the minister was forthright in underscoring that an increase in the wage bill was not a feasible option at this point.
It is well known that a stronger foundation makes for an easier academic climb. Accordingly then, I join those who believe that at least some of the big bucks should be redirected from the tertiary levels to the primary and early childhood levels. It is reasonable to expect that not only would we gain better facilities, but we'd also be able to attract the crème de la crème of our qualified teachers to these institutions. And if they don't follow the "carrot", it would be very telling on how committed those who teach the teachers are to teaching the nation's children.
Clearly, there are challenges to accessing tertiary level education, and a redirecting of funds will only make it even more challenging. But the fact is, unlike children, graduates from the secondary system are at least able to work and help themselves. The formula is: start out with a proper primary and early childhood foundation. Augment that with a strong and deliberate secondary system that equips every graduate with an employable skill for which they will receive HEART certification. And as the minister intimated, it has been to our pain and embarrassment that we have traditionally held the view that it is the student who shows little prospect in the academics who must be otherwise directed to the vocational areas. This will ensure that the secondary graduate is prepared to pursue independently higher education, whether here or abroad. This is not a new concept; it is one that has been working for decades at NCU through its Work and Study Programme.
I noted that the minister referred repeatedly to how things have always been done. I sensed his struggle to choose between the obvious way forward and listening to the "wisdom" of our educational traditions.
I put it to the minister that not only would history be kind to him, but it would also be a safe political risk to put greater emphasis on the lower echelons of our educational system. I pray that what I did indeed hear would constitute what might be termed "the writing on the wall" for education in Jamaica.
Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites
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