Transform education system to achieve economic growth, says VM boss
Courtney Campbell, CEO and President of Victoria Mutual Group

A transformation of Jamaica’s education system is key to the country achieving economic growth, according to Courtney Campbell, President and CEO of Victoria Mutual (VM) Group.

Campbell made the remark on Monday’s opening day of the Jamaica Theological Seminary’s (JTS) Leadership Conference 2022.

He noted that the diffusion of knowledge and information have been at the foundation of all successful national transformations. He cited examples of successful countries that transformed themselves, including the so-called Asian Tigers – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and the dragons – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. These countries, he said, are rapidly converging toward the standard of advanced nations, while the least advanced African countries such as Central African Republic, Congo, Niger, Gambia, and Caribbean nations such as Haiti and Jamaica and some Latin American countries such as Venezuela have stagnated or experienced sluggish growth.

Campbell was referencing a study that looked at GDP per capita growth for 84 developing countries from 1961-2017.

The CEO said Jamaica must develop a vision for a more inclusive and equitable education system while quoting Nelson Mandela who said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Campbell noted that before COVID-19, Jamaica’s economy suffered from low rates of productivity and high income inequality. He pointed to the Jamaica Productivity Centre, which has highlighted that Jamaica has the lowest labour productivity when compared to other Caribbean countries such as Barbados, the Dominican Republic, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

“One reason for low productivity is the low availability of some of the skills required to be globally competitive in this era. We have to transform the content of our training,” said Campbell.

He posited that COVID-19 has accelerated technology adoption in all sectors, so these talent-related challenges have become even more pronounced.

“If your company or country cannot claim a ready pool of these digital skills, you will be left behind. The income inequality has been exacerbated by permanent and temporary losses of employment and income,” Campbell stated.

“To address these issues, we will have to help our people identify and transition to new labour market opportunities supported by revised labour market policies. We must also invest in reskilling and upskilling programmes,” he added.

Campbell pointed out that VM is doing its part and in 2018, the Group devised what he called an ambitious digital transformation programme.

“The main goal of this programme is to move from ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital’ by infusing digital technologies into all of VM’s key business processes,” Campbell shared.

He cautioned that in order do this well, “we have had to ensure that our people develop critical digital skills that allow them to thrive, not only in a digital workspace, but also in the new digital world.”

In this regard, Campbell said an entire pillar of VM's digital strategy is dedicated to digital capabilities-building, with focus on skills such as design thinking, customer journey mapping, data analysis, agile methodologies etc.

Said Campbell: “Our people have adapted to remote collaboration. We have invested in a digital collaboration platform to enable the shift to this new paradigm, and even more importantly, we have a continuous training programme designed to help our team capitalise on the benefits of the platform for greater productivity while working remotely. It cannot be overemphasised how important it is for educational institutions to recognise the importance of focus on these types of new digital skills. They are now skills for survival. Our labor market requires this upskilling, and it is imperative that we advance and embed these new skills in our nation’s educational systems”.

Campbell argued that in the post-COVID world, business leaders and legislators will need to consider new labour market practices, regulations, and laws to support the new normal.

And, he said there is another longstanding challenge in Jamaica’s education system that demands transformation.

He cited that based on outcomes, only 25 per cent of the country’s more than 160 high schools are performing at the level required to properly prepare young people for a prosperous future.

“In the other 75 per cent of schools, only two of every 10 students pass at least five CSEC subjects including English and mathematics. As a result, only 19 per cent of Jamaicans aged 19-24 are currently enrolled in tertiary education, and only 15 per cent of the workforce has benefited from tertiary education.

“We have to transform the quality of our educational outcomes in the majority of our schools. We are leaving behind too many of our talented young Jamaicans. These are the potential data-scientists, actuaries, engineers, bankers of the future. We are leaving them behind because of major and multi-faceted weaknesses in our early-childhood, primary and secondary systems,” Campbell said.

He asked: “What are the investments required to transform this situation? How can we strategise to achieve an audacious goal - that in 15 years at least 90 per cent of our 18-year-olds either matriculate to tertiary education or obtain vocational certification”.

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