Is Vision 2030 still achievable?
In exhilarating fashion and quick succession, the novel coronavirus pandemic became a reality check for many Jamaicans, in terms of their finances, education, and employment.
According to Statista, the total global COVID-19 infections have contributed close to seven million deaths and 700 million recoveries so far. As a result, globalisation, supply chains, microeconomies, and the nation’s education strategy will be negatively affected for the next 20 years. However, narrowing down on Jamaica from a macroeconomic perspective, the outlook shows we have forecast troubling trends and grim times ahead. According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Vision 2030 Jamaica represents the country’s long-term strategic development plan, which will subsequently make Jamaica a global target to live, work, raise families, and do business. Jamaicans will have a chance to rise above rampant crime, towering inflation, underpaid civil servants, and the clichÃ©d brain drain with this pleasant-sounding vehicle. Suffice to say that if Jamaica and its leadership do not make a well-equipped paradigm shift immediately, then it is safe to assume that there will be an eventual socio-economic downturn, indicative of many struggling future generations for the land of wood and water, which will attain republic status within the short term.
TACKLING THE MODERN
In the 1970s and 1980s Jamaicans could leave their back doors open without worrying about their assets being stolen or late-night violence from criminals. However, considering the current trends across the country, citizens would be deemed crazy if they tried to do that today.
Data posted on the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) website have shown that, despite the average murder rate by crime being 1,000 people per annum, the average murder rate increased to 1,331 per annum between the years 2009-2022, 33 per cent higher than the average; notwithstanding, there were notable dips in 2012, 2014, 2018, and 2020.
In spite of substantial advancements in technology, strategy, and foreign assistance, the murder rate has continued to increase over the past five years. One is left to question whether we are taking the right, systematic approach to identity and subsequently address the root causes of criminality. Let us consider, for example, how modern-day criminals have taken a more brazen, coordinated approach in obtaining funds, especially through the recent string of bank and automated teller machines (ATM) robberies, which have left citizens on high alert and with heightened vigilance. These money heists often result in innocent bystanders being caught in the crossfire, along with security forces suffering injuries and fatalities. In response, will the Jamaica Defence Force, JCF, and private entity security firms form a stronger alliance? Time will tell in due season.
Jamaicans have already started to feel the suffocating effects of inflation in 2023. Data from the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) highlights the set average inflation rate from April 2009 to March 2023 to be 6.8 per cent, and the actual value averaged at 6.6 per cent. Bearing note that between 2022 and 2023 the inflation rates exceeded the maximum inflation value (upper limit) in the last 13 months consecutively.
Twenty years ago, items such as beef patties and bag juice were affordable to the average Jamaican. A beef patty cost $20 and a bag juice was for $5. Nowadays, a beef patty costs $300, which is a 1,400 per cent increase, and bag juice, on average, is sold for $60, which is 12 times the price compared to 2002. This situation would send any level-headed Jamaican into an expected and understandable tirade.
According to a 2002 The Gleaner article titled ‘Baked goods prices hiked’, a loaf of bread at that time cost $70, but today, that loaf of bread costs seven times the original mark-up.
Inflation is flying past the rate of salary increases in both the private and public sectors, which explains why consumers spend more on commodities, while their salaries barely change. The citizens will instinctively turn to other means of increasing their household income, which are, but not limited to, opening businesses, remittances, gaining employment outside the country, and, unfortunately, through illegal activities and organised crime, as is currently reflected in our society.
ADDRESSING EDUCATION POST-COVID-19
The World Bank has shed some light on how the Jamaican educational system had been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics from its website show that the number of out-of-school students was 46,930 of which 23,055 were females and 23,875 were males.
In her article ‘Thousands of Jamaica children are lost to learning’, country representative of UNICEF, Jamaica, Mariko Kagoshima noted that the Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY) reported about 120,000 young minds were disengaged from classes in 2020.
Primary school education is the cornerstone for setting the cognitive development of the young minds that will eventually lead the project of success for Jamaica. The COVID-19 incursion, however, has exacerbated any existing challenges in the Jamaican educational system, most notably at the primary and high school levels. Students’ academic performance has significantly dropped post-COVID-19, and it is feared that due to this lack of development of critical thinking competencies the future workforce will experience significant gaps.
The issue is even more pronounced for high school graduates who wish to pursue tertiary education. It is no easy task to attend the most prestigious universities and colleges in the region, and the costs are exorbitant, especially for well-respected professions like medicine and law. The average cost of attending medical school at The University of the West Indies (UWI) bachelor of medicine, bachelor of surgery (MBBS) programme in Jamaica is approximately US$28,000 per year. Seeing these creative and talented students being pressured to find this tuition through financial institutions like the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB) makes it easy to see why young Jamaicans pursue their tertiary education in countries like China or Ukraine instead. In these countries costs are approximately one-fifth of the aforementioned for tuition, housing, and administrative expenses. And even if they choose to return to Jamaica, they come home to suboptimal working conditions and they are grossly underpaid.
Unemployment rates and
Despite having the technical skills to do the job, many hard-working citizens are rejected and told that they are overqualified, and even if hired, they are paid less than the global average. Having a high unemployment rate translates to reduced productivity and efficiency and, consequently, a lower gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
When skilled personnel are not employed or underpaid in their own country, brain drain is the inevitable outcome. Skilled workers are forced to seek employment refuge in other countries that offer better paying salaries and incentives, which they would not have dreamt of getting in Jamaica.
Jamaica Observer reporter Romardo Lyons, in a 2022 article titled ‘It’s not about the pay: nurses seek better quality of life’, highlighted the plight of graduate nurses who opted to seek employment abroad in order to experience a finer quality of life and would use the money earned in these foreign countries to pay off existing debts back home. According to some nursing students, who reported that they would have little chance of finding quick employment after leaving nursing school, the Jamaican Government is not responding to their dilemma with urgency.
The silver lining
Credit must be given where credit is due. Given that the Office of the Prime Minister has taken the initiative to make levels one to four programmes offered by HEART/NSTA Trust free of cost, regardless of age or employment status, many people now have a second chance to get their professional lives in order.
This will ultimately lead to a much more refined workforce that can not only stamp its class in Jamaica but also anywhere on the planet. Jamaicans should be thankful for what they have: a booming tourism industry, Grammy-winning musicians, and several top-tier sprint athletes. More Jamaicans are opening businesses than ever before and are making money from lifelong passions. This is coupled with the picturesque diversity of the flora and fauna and the abundance of indigenous resources that can generate national revenue.
With Jamaica’s impending disengagement from the British monarchy to become a republic, the people should be mindful to strive for true self-sustainability, fruitful innovation, and stronger business collaborations that will benefit the country strategically. Simultaneously, they should continue to seek divine intervention and protection from the Lord Almighty. It is no coincidence that the national anthem is a prayer.
Henceforth, let us be reminded to count our blessings and be prepared to tackle the threats towards Vison 2030 so that it will become reality.
Dujean Edwards is an adjunct lecturer and a graduate of The University of the West Indies, Mona. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.