Let's not waste this chance to make education work for us

The Report of the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission chaired by Professor Orlando Patterson of Harvard University confirms what we knew before – the deep shortcomings in our education system at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

This in spite of the fact that the Government's budget devoted to education compares favourably with other developing countries; the high percentage of the primary and secondary age cohort enrolled, and the fact that Jamaicans recognise the overriding importance of educating their children, because of its potential for socio-economic mobility.

The failure rate in the system increases as students move from primary to secondary to university levels. A very large percentage leave primary school illiterate and innumerate. The achievement of students is correlated to their economic status and their attendance at the best secondary schools.

Similarly, many qualified students are unable to access university level education because of their inability to afford it and the shortage and cost of student loans.

The shortcomings are in the quality of education, not in the quantity of schools, expenditure and enrollment, in which case the resources devoted to education need to be used more effectively.

The report has much to say about improving the outcome of the education system. We are encouraged by the decision to establish an institutional mechanism ie an Education Progress Commission to monitor the implementation of the recommendations of the report because too many good reports – including previous reports on education – have been allowed to gather dust.

The report points out that there have been years of discussion on amendments to the Education Code, but little progress in that regard. Its key recommendations are grouped under three broad headings – Governance, Accountability, and Legislative Changes. Some of the more noteworthy ones are:

• Improvement in the selection of school boards and enhanced training of principals to address deficiencies in the governance of the education system.

• A strategic development plan for education and improved monitoring of implementation by more effective performance appraisal systems than now exists. An optimisation review of the Ministry of Education to better allocate resources and to identify the cultural barriers to the effective operation of the central ministry, to correct the disconnect between expenditure and results.

• End the many legislative gaps across the education system by finalising regulations relating to key entities and amendments to the existing Education Act and Education Regulations. The two primary entities that urgently need legal standing are the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) and the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission (JTEC).

We in this space do not, for one minute, suggest that the education system has been a total failure. It is interesting that Jamaican students generally do well when they pursue further education overseas, based on the foundational work laid here.

But we have to get past our propensity for loving words over action, or this latest work of the Orlando Patterson Commission will go to waste.

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