Get children to learn to read then they can read to learn
Year after year, one of the largest chunks of Jamaica’s national budget is allocated to the education ministry to educate the Jamaican population.
But year after year, measured primarily by how many of our high school graduates have achieved mastery in critical subjects, Jamaica’s efforts to educate its population is found woefully wanting.
Year after year, the common explanation of our low educational outcomes is that too many of our children have transitioned into high school without the required level of literacy to make sense of high school work. But until we appreciate that children have to first learn to read, so that they can read to learn, and that educators are guided accordingly in the educational approach, the results we have been getting year after year are not likely to improve significantly.
Literacy is the fundamental tool that every child needs to make sense of every subject to the extent required to pass their exams at the end of secondary school. As such, transitioning children to the secondary level of education, year after year, without exhausting the options to ensure that they are ready for that level of work, and apparently expecting better outcomes, is deliberately putting the cart before the horse.
Many of us grew up learning that prevention is better than cure, and as such the curative treatment being attempted in high schools at the moment to reverse the literacy deficit carried forward from primary schools suggests that much more efforts must be focused on prevention, which would make it unnecessary for secondary schools to be so occupied trying to cure primary schools learning deficits and consequently reducing the time and focus on secondary education necessary for these institutions to deliver expected outcomes.
Common among the expressed challenges to the efforts necessary to get better results at primary and early childhood levels is funding. I would recommend that the funding to plug the gaps to get our children at the lower levels fully prepared for secondary work could come from a new charge on tourism to be called Education Enhancement Fund (EEF) in the same way that the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) is being done. I feel strongly that our visitors might not be averse to this measure, given the benefits to be gained by all in being served right across Jamaica by a more educated people.
Further, I have no doubt that such a move would be well supported by Jamaicans at home and abroad. With tourism being projected to reach eight million visitors before too long, this could probably provide all the funds necessary to target and close the teaching and learning gaps at the early childhood and primary levels, which I believe would solve a wide range of our problems in this country.
As it is with the TEF, I imagine that if there is to be an EEF, it would be managed by a specifically instituted organisation mandated to finance the options necessary to make our children satisfactorily literate by the time they are ready for high school. Then we would have made a giant leap towards finally doing justice to our children in giving them the tools to do the work based on which we have been building our expectations of them. Then they may be able to finally give true meaning to our national pledge, because there is much evidence that learning to read at an early age positions children for long-term academic and career success.
We can either continue to be preoccupied with the problem or be preoccupied with the solution. As the new year approaches, I doubt there can be a better resolution for Jamaica than to demonstrate finally that this debilitating problem is not beyond us to solve.
Albert Town High School