Our leaders must take responsibility for failures in education
An aerial view of Discovery Bay High School.

Nothing, in our view, quite underlines the failure of governance in adequately dealing with problems in the education sector as does the continued existence of the shift system.

First introduced in the 1970s as a means to provide access to high schools for all Jamaican children, the shift system — derisively described by some as half-day school — was meant to be only temporary, pending the build-out of classroom space.

Back then, it was readily recognised, among other associated problems, that children on shift were leaving home too early, were getting home too late, sometimes long after dark; that there was significant loss of class time, making it difficult to complete the syllabus; that extra-curricular activities became extremely difficult; and that maintaining on-campus discipline was rendered doubly challenging.

Alas, approximately half a century later, the shift system is still with us.

As we understand it, about 30 Jamaican schools will still be on shift when the new school year opens today.

We appreciate the many challenges successive governments have had because of economic crises — some resulting from disasters beyond their control, such as hurricanes and most recently the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But we believe the bigger reasons for inadequacies in the education sector have been the failure to place priority attention where it is due, as well as to plan properly, maintain focus, execute accordingly, and with expedition.

Also, a tendency, on occasions, to alter policies on taking office has often only served to slow down progress and give our democratic system a bad name.

We suspect that inefficiencies such as we have identified here are at the root of the disgraceful situation at five-year-old Discovery Bay High School.

We hear that school leaders are scrambling to accommodate incoming students because long-promised classrooms are yet to be built.

School principal Mr Dwayne Mulgrave says the school needs 13 more classrooms.

This, in a context in which, according to our reporter, "Similarly to other secondary and primary institutions in the parish [St Ann], Discovery Bay High is in high demand, particularly due to a boom in construction of housing solutions within the area."

That makes sense since Discovery Bay and wider St Ann is central to ongoing rapid growth in the tourism sector. Soaring population is an obvious result.

How then did the Ministry of Education and wider Government fall down so badly?

We acknowledge Education Minister Ms Fayval Williams' recent frustration at chronic bureaucratic tangles which may well have contributed to the fallout at Discovery Bay High.

"What we need is a more accelerated process," Ms Williams told teachers at the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) recent annual conference. "It takes too long for the building officer to come out and look, and for design work to be done, and the tender work to go out and come back, and then it has to go to the next level and next level. That is what is holding up the process…" she said.

Ultimately, though, it seems to this newspaper, those in Government, having come forward as the elect of the people, must do whatever is necessary within the ambit of the law to correct problems.

Our national leaders must take responsibility.

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