A few years ago, while I was pursuing my undergraduate teaching degree, I discovered through a course, philosophy of education, that only between 10 and 15 per cent of the Jamaican population pursued studies at the tertiary level. Of course, I knew of the financial challenges associated with higher education, which could account for this small figure, but I later discovered that the problem had a deeper root.
Findings from the 2018 Survey of Living Conditions released by the Planning Institute of Jamaica revealed that 65 per cent of Jamaicans between the ages of 25 and 54 had no examination passes at the secondary level. To say that this information is troubling is an understatement. The report indicates that almost 14.6 per cent of the population had passes in the Caribbean Examinations Council's (CXC) Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) papers or University of Cambridge International Examination's General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE O'Level) examinations, while 11.7 per cent had a form of post-secondary or tertiary qualification.
These results, though very dismal, have been consistent over the decades. Where have we gone wrong as a nation? Successive governments, in sectoral debates, have presented flashy budgets for the education sector to the tune of applause and loud bench-banging, but have we reaped the rewards of the billions invested in education?
Sometimes politicians would have us believe that they are doing a remarkable job — though some of the recently elected ones are doing their best to make an impact. However, we have seen how the effects of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic have shown us the many gaps in our education system.
On the matter of the pandemic, can you imagine what the 2020, 2021, and beyond surveys will reflect, given that several students have been out of school?
Numerous academics and columnists have made recommendations over the years on how to better address the grave concerns that plague the sector. However, we are patiently awaiting the task force report that was commissioned by the prime minister some time ago. We hope it will not become another shelved artefact because government ministries love to conduct audits, but there is no true follow-up in the end.
Recently, there has been a blame game between politicians and dancehall artistes about who is responsible for the level of violence and domestic abuse in the country. The public court has ruled that both parties are to be held accountable, albeit at varying degrees.
With the shocking data from the living conditions survey, it is safe to assume the fact that many of our young people, especially men, may turn to crime and violence because they do not have anything productive to do. If they have no CSEC subjects their chances of formal employment are very limited. In fact, there are many people with a first degree who cannot even find a sustainable job.
The reality is that our social issues are very connected. People have to take care of their physiological needs. When people cannot provide for themselves and their families there is going to be an upsurge in robberies and criminality. We see it daily in the news.
We cannot only crucify politicians and dancehall artistes. Parenting also plays a crucial role in a child's development. Too many parents invest in the wrong things and leave the educational well-being of their child(ren) to suffer. Too many parents are absent from their children's development. They, especially fathers, are not there to provide the necessary moral, emotional, financial, and educational support. We know children can be “bad” at times. However, would we not have had fewer teenage pregnancies, school drop-outs, teenage suicides, etc, if more parents had played their role?
It is important to note also that students themselves have a personal duty to secure a better future. They have to want the best for themselves. Yes, we are cognisant of the limited resources, the oversized classes, the teachers who do not always do a good job at explaining concepts, and all the other elements. Notwithstanding, students have to learn to be flexible and cultivate a mindset to succeed.
Too often the blame is attributed to external parties, but we ignore the reality that success comes to those who chase after it. People from the ghetto and rural areas — no discrimination intended — do not have to adopt the mindset and culture of their surroundings. Several of our young people are too unambitious and have misplaced priorities. I have witnessed many brilliant minds go to waste, simply because when it was time to be serious about school, they were negatively influenced by peers and fashion, celebrities, sex, drugs, gadgets, and music became their idols.
The performance of all of us as stakeholders in the education sector has been unsatisfactory. We must find a way to have better returns on the investment made in education. Already, several of those who leave university are migrating for better economic opportunities. Who will be left to build Jamaica in the next decade? May we join hands and hearts together and invest in our people and country.
Oneil Madden is a PhD candidate in didactics and linguistics at the Université Clermont Auvergne, France, and president of the Association of Jamaican Nationals in France (JAMINFRANCE). Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.