Tertiary education is no panacea

BY J D Wood

Monday, November 19, 2018

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On October 29,2018 it was reported that approximately 800 new students, and an estimated 1,600 returning students of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, had been deregistered for failure to meet their tuition fees. In joining the age-old debate, commentators have posited some daring claims imploring the Government to “deal with the financing of tertiary education once and for all”. But I wish to challenge some of these claims about the value of tertiary education and submit a proper proposal for the Government to consider on the burning question of the rationale for financing tertiary education.

One claim is that tertiary education is a dream for high school graduates; hence, the Government must devise a policy to finance same; and further, that the future of the nation depends on the ability to educate and advance the human capital of our nation.

Firstly, all the yearning for tertiary level training has never been and will never be the base of the resolution to finance tertiary education. The idea that the wholesale promotion and full financing of tertiary education in Jamaica is the panacea to our social, economic and political woes is asinine and bears no absolute truth. The present tertiary academic craze is a scam foisted on the world's population which has now become an incurable pandemic. A cursory review of human achievements in the area of inventions of the modern and post-modern epochs will dispel this well-ingrained idea that social and economic success and advancement are based on tertiary education.

It seems to me that the reverse is indeed the veracious position. It's well known that it's those among us with the C grades are the employers of the A grades — a complete paradox that reflects the reality of the human experience.

Www.fastcompany.com supports my claim. “Who says a college degree is the only path to success? These famous industry leaders all have one thing in common: They dropped out,” it writes and lists the following 10 famous founders who did not graduate from college:

• Evan Williams, co-founder and former CEO of Twitter

• Jan Koum, co-founder and CEO of mobile messaging services, WhatsApp

• Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group

• Russell Simmons, co-founder of the record label Defjam

• Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers

• Stacey Ferreira, co-founder of MySocialCloud.com

• Ralph Lauren, CEO and chairman of Ralph Lauren Corp

• Sea Parker, co-founder of Napster and CEO of Brigade Media

• John Mackey co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market

• Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel.

Additionally, Biography.com also has its contribution to the above, naming Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation with a net worth of US$96.7 billion, which has allowed him to donate US$35 billion to charity. This man is a dropout from Harvard University. The same is true for the Wright brothers, who gave us the aeroplane.

Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate who became the wealthiest man in the world, was a 16-year-old refugee when he stowed away from Greece to Argentina, getting his first business as a homeless boy who tenaciously faced the hostile rejection of a prospective tobacco dealer to give him an order for five shillings as Greece had the best tobacco at that time.

Soichiro Honda, the Japanese who founded the Honda Motor Company and placed both the Honda motorbike and the car on top of the global sales chart, was only a schoolboy when he surmounted multiple misfortunes during World War II to attain such a heroic achievement.

Thomas Alva Edison, who only had home schooling, began his entrepreneurship at age 10, and deafness in both ears could not thwart his profound drive to give us the incandescent light bulb and gramophone, along with over 1,000 patents for inventions.

Michael Faraday, English physicist and chemist, was an ordinary schoolboy when he attended a chemistry lecture given by Sir Humphry Davy. He took the notes of the lecture, had it bound and presented it to Sir Humphry, who was so impressed that he employed him to be his assistant in his chemistry lab. Faraday went on to be the first to identify electric current and electromagnets. Sir Humphry eventually described Faraday as “my greatest discovery”.

These great entrepreneurial, self-made genii, with minimal formal education, are indisputably the true socio-economic, political and intellectual architects of this modern world with all its glorious achievements. It would seem to me that the great economic and social transformation of the world is based on human inspiration or providential revelation, and not tertiary education.

Further, I wish to make the following requests of Jamaica's education minister as part of the transformation of Jamaica:

1. reorganise the educational system skewing it towards entrepreneurship, accompanied by the relevant curriculum that allows those at the base of the educational ladder to become functionally literate;

2. gear the primary and secondary education to identify the human potential that lies within each student in order to chart their vocational future;

3. create a network of regional and community polytechnics for early assessment of individual potential competencies and channel them early into the appropriate fields;

4. introduce a motivational curriculum based on the achievement of local, regional and international achievers such as athletes, educators, businessmen, and inventors to inspire the youth to yearn and strive for success;

5. infiltrate university training programmes with a number of skills options to be pursued as a criterion for graduation;

6. broaden the scope of the Scientific Research Council to provide guidance and assessment of potential inventors and pursue their objectives to fruition;

7. upgrade school chemistry and physics labs to initiate students in focusing on business product development making the lessons and experience a catalyst for economic growth;

The Government must take stock of its financial allocation to tertiary institutions given the super saturation of this market for graduates. It must create a structure to guide aspiring graduates in pursuing viable career options.

Given the academic and skill versatility of Jamaicans, we should embark on a systematic training of professionals with skills for which there is international demand, for example, teachers, nurses, household workers, and chefs. Then have formal bilateral negotiations with international recruiters to offset a substantial portion of the cost of training. In this regard, Jamaica can market itself as the employment capital of the world, thus fully exploiting the remittance sector and concretising it into a full-fledged industry.

Dr J D Wood is the executive director of Jamaica Foundation for Natural Medicine and a former public health officer. Send comments to the Observer or jafnam@yahoo.com.

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