Even before the advent of the dreaded novel coronavirus pandemic, Jamaica’s educational system has been in perpetual crisis mode.
Despite billions of dollars being spent in that area of national life, many of the outcomes have been miserably poor and disappointing. For example, it continues to boggle my mind that a high school student can go from grade 7 to grade 11 and is neither literate nor numerate.
The recent revelation by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that the country may have to import skilled labour in order to meet the needs of the construction sector, particularly so with respect to the new hotels slated to be built, has raised many eyebrows and has once again brought into sharp focus the inherent weaknesses in our education system. And this is the reality that we have to be facing in the year when Jamaica is celebrating 60 years of Independence.
The perennial flexing of the muscle by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) regarding the ever-vexing issue of salaries has oftentimes created a confrontational approach, especially leading up to the start of the new school year, but both teachers and the Government must sit down at the bargaining table and determine that whatever the outcome, the nation’s education system should not be a major victim of circumstance.
The recurring Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC)/Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC)/Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) results may have put a damper on things, but this writer would want to urge the major players not to jump to hasty conclusions as to why these were not more impressive. The many passes with distinctions as well as other individual stories of students getting quality grades against the odds would suggest that all is not lost, so let us fix what needs to be fixed while giving appropriate kudos.
One worrying factor, though, is the extent to which the majority of teachers in this country put their students first. It is well known that some teachers are merely in the classroom or behind the principal’s desk to earn a salary as well as the other perks that go with the post, including extended vacation leave with pay.
Indeed, not all teachers are teachers. Some are “tea trash” as is expressed in common Jamaican parlance. The latter do not consistently write lesson plans, are always late or frequently absent, have very little love or any at all for their charges, and can’t wait to go home and get away from those who they regard as “a waste of time”.
I am all for teachers being paid on the basis of performance. After all, if they are going to be insisting that they should be paid salaries commensurate with those paid in the private sector, they must earn their keep.
There is this worrying trend, too, of what I call “degree-itis”, whereby many people who go out of their way to earn a degree are primarily doing so in order to be better paid and acquire status and recognition. In the good old days when most teachers had only a diploma, while some had only Third Year or General Certificate of Education (GCE) academic successes, the quality of education, in many instances, far outweighed today’s output.
It is most alarming, too, that so many teachers do not speak proper English when they are imparting knowledge in the classroom. I well recall a time when I gave a lift to a young woman who claimed that she was a teacher. During a conversation with her, I asked what she taught. She proudly replied, “I teaches English.”
I have visited many schools in my time, and I am always amazed to hear the many grammatical errors that teachers make while addressing students, not to mention what is written on the chalkboard. Let it not be said that I am coming down too hard on our teachers, but it must be stressed that if they want the wider society to give them the respect they deserve, then they must stand up and deliver.
If they cannot take the heat in the kitchen, they must get out. Our children deserve better and it is my view that, in many instances, the tea trash holds sway over the genuine teacher who loves to teach and loves children. And thank God, we still have many good teachers out there who are not just interested in a monthly salary but are genuinely dedicated to the oftentimes ungrateful task of providing quality education for their students.
In the meantime, the ever-worrying issue of violence in our schools continues to rear its ugly head. Almost daily we see videos of students fighting, sometimes with a dangerous weapon or being egged on by their peers. In this context, parents must be reminded that they have a most pivotal role to play.
It is well known that in schools where there is a very active and involved parent teachers’ association (PTA), there tends to be a more wholesome environment. Too many parents just abandon their children to the teachers, who must take on their role and more.
The abuse meted out to teachers who seek to discipline children must stop, and the education ministry as well as the police must deal firmly and decisively with those miscreants.
Absentee or don’t-care fathers are also a serious part of the problem, and I would love to see the National Parent Teachers’ Association of Jamaica leading a campaign to get fathers more involved on a sustained basis in their children’s education – especially the boys.
The contentious matter of auxiliary fees continues to haunt the education landscape, but it must be understood that education is a very expensive proposition, but it is also the best investment any parent can make for his or her child. The freeness mentality in this country must be curtailed, particularly when it comes to education.
Many schools can only remain open when those auxiliary fees are paid. It is regrettable that the politicisation of education has led some people to believe that it is wicked and unconscionable for parents and guardians to meet these necessary expenses. One recalls when a certain politician in Gordon House referred to a principal of a prominent high school as being “an extortionist”. Parents must forego the “bling”, the partying, expensive hairstyles, and those unnecessary luxury items in order to make the sacrifice to ensure that their children go to school.
The bottom line is that education is Jamaica’s only hope if, as a people, we are to attain sustained economic independence and ultimately social stability.
The writing is on the wall and we continue to be found wanting.
FAREWELL, MRS G
News of the death of veteran journalist and theatre practitioner extraordinaire Barbara Gloudon has left me mourning a truly patriotic Jamaican and friend who gave so much to this country in various ways.
Apart from her long stint on RJR’s Hotline, for many decades she provided Jamaicans, both here and abroad, with much laughter through the National Pantomime.
Especially for me, she was a fellow columnist in the Jamaica Observer, with both of us being the longest contributors on its opinion pages.
Her death, coming so soon after her husband Ancile, is even more painful, but they are now together in the realms of the spirit world where there is no more pain or sorrow. Rest well, Mrs G, and walk good.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.