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Getting serious about tertiary education

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, November 08, 2019

A Jamaican education suffers grade inflation and many perform below benchmarks, including some baptised with degrees. This process begins early when an infant is boosted, as his parents pay well. He is not potty-trained, chronically inattentive, has poor hand-eye coordination, won't group play, and is not ready but moves up.

So at primary school to sit still is agony, but lunch is respite. He does not evince Bloom's cognitive, psychomotor or affective attributes but age moves him up. And at secondary some 70 per cent like him can't pass exit examinations. This is the process of making a tertiary student.

The headline of the editorial of the Sunday Observer of November 3, 2019 'Let's get serious about tertiary education' was moving. Education and training for life are inseparable; in days past, growing responsibility for life and gender skills as hunting or child rearing was it. Today education is crafted benchmarks (Primary Exit Profile, Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations) along an up-escalator of skills, knowledge, values, and English to create caring, well-adjusted adults who can communicate and earn a living.

So what is tertiary education? It replaced apprenticeships; being articled to some guru in philosophy, electricity, surveying, pedagogy, accounting, law, fine arts, etc. Many ace Duke Street attorneys never went to law school, or fine artists to art school. But tertiary has problems. First, it's provisioned via a supply chain that delivers 30 per cent matriculation quality after years — not good enough! This affects both strands of tertiary:

a) the degree route which graduates for no special job, but trainable in mainly people skills; and

b) the competency-based route governed by regulations and accuracy of practice so graduates master some things and are trainable, especially around technology and machinery.

 

Second, tertiary must meet labour market needs, while the best students are biased to a degree and against competency studies — a challenge! Incidentally, this bias is endemic — parents, teachers, students; what do we do?

Third, tertiary juggles political promises on access for the disadvantaged who are most of the failing 70 per cent — a challenge! Note also, installed capacity for degrees is more than matriculants, so a lot of squirming takes place. The capacity for competency-based qualifications which business needs is under-invested or underused as costs are higher and faculty also averse. The honest choice would be a smaller number of quality degrees and certificates of mastery until the education supply chain is fixed at origination — early childhood — to give the numbers, but the outcry would be deafening.

Jamaica is well placed to leverage tertiary and excel at human capital innovation. We have one disadvantaged for every three solid citizens, while India and Nigeria have 2.5 and 3.5 disadvantaged, respectively, for each solid citizen. They need generations to lift everyone; we need 20 years of good management. If we ready the zero to eight years cohort the education transmission mechanisms would push quality to tertiary level in a decade. Prime Minister Andrew Holness knows the early childhood advantage, but will he commit funds? Second, education is political, so early years are squeezed, not secondary or tertiary, as they can vote or shout.

Third, tertiary is biased to degrees and against competency-based qualifications. Cabinet should publish the international equivalency tables for academic and competency qualifications up to doctoral level and comparative salaries to correct bias.

Fourth, tertiary needs a new business model to produce high volume, cost-effective, uniformed high quality. We need fewer universities but more campuses. Cabinet might leverage the global rank and brand of The University of the West Indies; make the College of the Arts, Science and Education the Agriculture and Engineering Faculty; Edna Manley College for fine arts; Sam Sharpe college for education and maritime with Montego Bay and Mandeville campuses; and Port Antonio for tourism. This will save billions on duplication and can be controlled all by dashboard. The University of London's many campuses cover a population of 11 million. Can The UWI cover our three million? Grace is a near $100 billion diversified, profitable, global empire. It has one head, while taxpayers pay some 20 heads of degree entities with armies of registrars, bursars, etc when they all do the same thing in the same space with the same students. All would get instant brand boost globally.

Fifth, we should copy some Democratic Socialist policies used by Germany, France, Canada, Britain, Finland, etc after the war to build quality education and social protection for all, using taxes. Why alleviate poverty when we can eliminate it?

Finally, monitor our declining birth rate as depopulated schools with class sizes of 12 exist. As well, check impact on buildings, quality, etc. Cabinet can fund all basic schools by 2027 if it absorbs 350 a year as the supply chain for tertiary begins with early readiness, to primary, to secondary, and will deliver high quality to tertiary. Remediation is costly, so get it right the first time! Stay conscious!

 

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.