OPPOSITION Leader Andrew Holness said Wednesday that the Government's educational policies were poisoning the system and impeding the sector's contribution to growth and development.
"I want to send a clear message that the Jamaica Labour Party had a different strategy from the strategy being employed in education today. What is being employed in education today is poison. It will kill the education system in Jamaica," Holness told JLP members and guests at the party's Scholarship Awards Luncheon at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.
Three young tertiary students -- Ava-Gaye Chutkhan, who is training to become a maritime engineer at the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI); Kadian Francis from St Thomas, who is studying public sector management at the University of the West Indies (UWI); and Stevie-Ann Simmonds, who is pursuing a degree in mass communications at the UWI -- received scholarships under which the party has guaranteed to meet their full educational costs.
The awards were made to the students and their parents, excepting Chutkhan, who was unable to attend because she is currently undergoing training on a vessel at sea. She was represented by her parents.
Holness, who was the guest speaker at the function, used the opportunity to severely criticise the Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites and the Government for their policy on education. He was cheered on by the guests.
"I think the Government needs to take a whole different approach to education. What they are doing is poison. What we were doing was administering the medicine to make the system better, and we were seeing results right away," Holness said.
Holness argued that the JLP's policy was never to take away the teachers' benefits, but to help them utilise those benefits to become more efficient.
"The teachers need their leave to study, but (the question is) how do you make the study leave more efficient, so that it justifies the expenditure?" he argued.
He said that there was no structured use of study leave as teachers could take the leave to study anything they wished.
"The JLP would have sought to guide the teachers into using the study leave to increase their knowledge in areas of the greatest national use," the Opposition leader explained.
He said that the JLP never considered taking away "long, hard fought" benefits from the teachers, as its policy was based on accountability.
"Our policy was to get the teachers to use what they had in a more efficient and productive way. In that way it is rewarding to the nation and it is also rewarding to them.
So, I am emphasising this point to the minister of education, that he needs to start talking more about accountability and less about taking away the teachers' emoluments and other benefits," he stated.
Holness also criticised the Government's position that it will not be hiring new teachers this year.
"What will happen to all the teachers and potential teachers who are already in the system training? I think the minister needs to rethink his policy and quickly because, as I said before, without an expansion in education all the big investments that we hear about (will not be achieved)," he added.
He said whatever the JLP did in education was not always popular, but there were positive results and, for example, "every single year the CXC results improved in Math and English".
He said that during the JLP's years in power, the number of students who matriculated into university with four or more subjects moved from approximately 6,500 to the approximately 14,000 students when he left the Ministry of Education.
He said that G-SAT and Grade 4 literacy test results improved significantly every year under the JLP.
"It was the JLP that brought the whole business of literacy to national attention and I am watching very closely, because I want to see that emphasis on the development of literacy in our nation continued," he said.
He said that the JLP had set a goal that by 2015, every child leaving primary school should be literate and numerate.
"I am watching to see whether or not this Government is going to continue that thrust in education," he stated.
The function was chaired by Senator Alexander Williams, chairman of the JLP's scholarship committee. Other speakers included Dr Horace Chang, general secretary; as well as Marisa Dalrymple Philibert and Olivia "Babsy" Grange, spokespersons on education and youth and culture, respectively.