The Catholic Church, with its significant involvement in education at every level, welcomes the publication of the Patterson Report and its frank assessment of the situation in education in Jamaica. We support most of its analysis and recommendations as valuable and necessary to improve the quality of the system and ensure effective use of resources.
With regard to funding, in general, we support the need to address adequacy, efficiency, and equity of the funding of education in Jamaica. Although the total funding for education is comparable with other countries in similar conditions, the report points out that we fall behind in results and returns from this investment. We need to ensure that funds are not wasted but used to maximise learning at each level, and we agree that more State and more private funding are needed along with more re-allocating within the education sector.
While we are mindful of the other sections of the report concerning the other levels of the education system, the Church is particularly anxious to place emphasis on the pre-primary and primary levels — the bases of the entire education structure which determine ability to cope with post-primary education. Yet, they are least resourced. And the results can be considered appalling: At the end of six years of primary schooling, 56 per cent of the students cannot, or can barely read. Similar percentages cannot write or comprehend simple sentences. We cannot continue like this.
The amount of investment and how we use it is weak at the pre-primary and primary levels and adversely affect the entire education system. The report notes that our expenditure at these levels is way below our comparable Caribbean neighbours. Yet our allocation to the tertiary level exceeds that of our neighbours. We commit to working with the State to rectify these challenges at the pre-primary and primary levels. As an important part of that transformation, we note the commitment of the minister of education to converting basic schools to infant departments of primary schools.
We support the recommendation that funds be redirected from sections of the tertiary to pre-primary and primary. For example, HEART/NSTA Trust initiative consumes $14 billion, yet the output is so inadequate. We support the call for drastic overhaul of that operation and redirecting some of that funding to early childhood education and the primary level.
We firmly support the conclusion that early childhood education needs greater resource input and that it should focus on socialisation, values & attitudes, and basic literacy and numeracy. It is the foundation and stimulus for building the education structure. In line with such educational transformation, the Catholic Church in Jamaica recommits to emphasise in all our schools affirmative socialisation within a strong religious foundation — values and practices of self-respect, respect for others, discipline, honesty, truth, responsibility for oneself, and a strong work and patriotic ethic.
Early childhood education teachers require more pay and better qualifications. Hence, we support increased teacher-training since the majority of the early childhood education teaching staff have rather low qualifications. They should be incentivised to upgrade in-service by way of workshops and micro-credentialling and stackable courses, and their salary scales need to be revised significantly from the minimum wage level that most endure.
Teaching at all levels, but especially these first two, should be animated and heavily supported by creative use of the full range of IT and Internet resources, as the report recommends, to stimulate, engage, and facilitate imaginative exploration and learning.
Investment has to be more in human resources than physical infrastructure, except for the neglected areas of maintenance and IT updating and support.
With regard to other aspects of the educational system, the report has recommendations that we consider essential to address the system. These include:
➢ In view of the fact that the majority of students have not accessed or consistently accessed the learning available, we fully support the recommendation, consistent with World Bank views, for urgent and significant one-off budget allocations over the next two years to be made to mitigate against these massive challenges to the educational system and reverse learning loss arising from the novel coronavirus pandemic through a range of remedial interventions.
➢ We fully support the report's call for private sources/parents to contribute fees for their children's schooling at every level, with the essential rider that those who genuinely cannot pay would not be denied quality access. The analysis confirms that schools need these resources to improve the quality of delivery.
➢ With a significant amount of family financial support for education going to provide lunch, snacks and bus fare, we endorse the report's recommendation that support be given to proper nutritional breakfast and lunch, whether provided locally by school or more centralised without the taint of corruption. We accept, too, the implicit recommendation of a mechanism to provide a transportation subsidy for students certified as being in real need. These recommendations need to be recognised as developmental capital.
➢ Although pre-primary suffers most, all levels of teaching need a better salary package, but we also tie this to increased accountability of teachers and principals for the performance of their students.
➢ Noting that fewer than 30 per cent of students who write the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams pass five subjects, including English and mathematics, at a single sitting, we are of the view that if the pre-primary and primary levels are strengthened this will impact positively on output at the secondary level. Notwithstanding, this level will also need attention, including infusing teaching with increased and more engaging IT support as at the earlier levels.
➢ We support the report's conclusion that teachers also need continuing professional education courses, while teacher-training needs to ensure it keeps current with the best ways of getting students to learn in the contemporary world, flipping the classroom so that the learning is student-centred and the teacher a facilitator. This also requires greater emphasis on real communication, using the oral modes common to our society.
➢ We note that the Patterson Report stresses, most importantly, the need for implementation of its recommendations, and this we fully endorse. It is too important to our future to go the way of other reports that have been ignored. Without implementation there can be no transformation.
To the extent that we can, the Catholic Church commits to supporting and implementing the transformation envisaged in the report within the Catholic educational institutions at every level. We call on parents, both mothers and fathers, to be more involved in their children's education and in providing a stable family environment. We call on teachers to redouble their efforts, including through professional development, at getting students literate and numerate and able to contribute meaningful to our society. We call on the State to ensure that the funding support and facilitating mechanisms are provided to ensure that the recommendations of the report are implemented.
Kenneth D Richards is the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kingston.
Burchell A McPherson is the Roman Catholic bishop of Montego Bay.
John D Persaud is the Roman Catholic bishop of Mandeville.
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