Local government — the engine for educational development in a COVID-19 era

Local government — the engine for educational development in a COVID-19 era

Friday, November 20, 2020

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Education has a powerful effect on one's life. Through real education people gain confidence, smart ideas, and the ability to succeed in life. The novel pandemic has brought an abrupt change to the accessibility of formal education for many of Jamaica's youth. It has also brought a drastic shift in the shape and form of the learning experience expected to equip children with the life skills needed to navigate a turbulent world and to contribute to the productive output of their environment.

Many educators argue today that with the new normal that COVID-19 has compelled them to adapt to changes that are not just challenging, but also crippling, as the most vulnerable are greatly impacted by the need to shift to a virtual learning environment.

The children of the poor are being required now to find even more creative ways to stay included and involved within an education system that was already difficult to strive in due to their economic shortcomings.

The general theme emerging due to COVID-19 is access. The simple fact is that educators are limited with the change management skills to employ and require the institutional arrangements to provide the non-human resources required to navigate change.

What is required is a change organisation, and that is exactly what local government entities are designed to provide.

Local government continues to represent the ideal organisation structured to provide linkages between a country's centralised policy output and the actual policy outcomes possible for communities across Jamaica. It continues to house the potential for being the engine for growth and development. It is part of a democratic system politically obligated to protect the rights of citizens, and it is an advanced managerial body with technical staff trained and certified to fulfil the executive role of the State.

The Tablets in Schools (TIS) programme which was envisioned in the pre-COVID-19 period provides one such opportunity for local government to play a central role in mobilising, organising, and distributing these critical resources to enhance the educational experience. The programme has become even more important for the immediate future to provide the reach necessary for intervention to mitigate against systemic disenfranchisement in the education system. A centralised programme, however, has been proven over the past 30 years to be inefficient, ineffective, and costly, the three pillars upon which poor governance is built.

The recent news has seen many schools, especially in rural areas, reaching out to the media in a call for help to provide the very resources for which the Tablets in Schools programme is designed to mitigate. However, local government, if positioned as the central implementing agency in across all localities, will be able to better address the critical needs of local, community schools.

All registered schools within a municipal council would be documented and prioritised according to the needs assessment done — a capacity that is currently housed within local government, but remains dormant. This level could, then, respond with the requisite urgency in streamlining the resources needed to address the needs of the school population.

A 10-year report by UNICEF, entitled 'The Global Learning Gap: Opportunities and Challenges for all Children and Youth', indicates that the ineffectiveness of education programmes has a major impact on the way that leaders of countries manage their economies. A greater negative impact exists where the ineffectiveness is further deepened by the lack of institutional support provided. So, it has long been documented by the World Bank that there is a great need to decentralise government services. It is the model most accredited as a tool for engendering development. Local government is the answer.

UNICEF also finds that great education is deeply rooted in innovation. And people who understand know that innovation and creativity are key for growth and development. Local government is a hub for such creativity and innovation, as it holds the capacity — structurally through empowerment initiatives since the early 2000s — to respond with the agility and flexibility to the needs of the Government and the people.

Students, parent and teachers are concerned with failing to meet global standards in education required to secure a brighter future not just for the generation emerging, but for the society we desire as set out in the Vision 2030 development road map. Having empowered local government with the capacity, we must now embolden it with the mandate to take on wider community tasks, not just to build and repair parochial roads, manage waste disposal, clean drains — which are all important tasks — but also to engineer the educational pathway to success of its citizens.

For the best examples of how local government is leading the drive to development and high-performance governance in education, look no further than the global ranking of the top 10 countries listed, among them the USA, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and all are strong advocates and practitioners of an empowered local governance system.

Omar Francis is former vice-president of G2K and Jamaica Labour Party councillor-caretaker for Point Hill Division in St Catherine West Central.

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