Michael Manley: His legacy of education for empowermentSunday, December 14, 2014
BY BURCHELL WHITEMAN
A lightly edited version of Ambassador Whiteman’s contribution to the Michael Manley Lecture at Tom Redcam Library in Kingston on December 10, 2014.
I hope I will be forgiven for beginning a conversation about our late revered iconic leader with a reference to his encounter with a dog, as recorded by his daughter and highly acclaimed author Rachel.
She recalls the fastidious Michael being in a particular location with her and others, where they were visited by a malnourished dog, and his absolute determination to retain his distance from the animal. When one of the friends who was familiar with the dog defended its presence with the words, “But he’s so loyal”, Michael snapped back, “he’s not loyal, he’s needy!”
On another occasion, this time in relation to social responsibility and charity, he was equally forthright. “That business of people telling me ‘See that little lame mongrel... he’s so loyal...’ I know he’s not loyal at all. He’s being denied his living right to dignity. Don’t pat him on the back. Damn patronage! I’d rather he not bother with me at all because he’s off about his own business. Then he’s not needy any more. You don’t simply feel sorry for people. Charity is as humiliating as want. I suppose that attracted me to the union. You can make things better. You can have a crack at making things just.”
A society of justice. A society of opportunity. An empowered society. These phrases clearly reflect the aspirations which Michael Manley articulated for our country and which were at the heart of the policies and programmes which characterised his development agenda for Jamaica. Whatever anyone might say, positive or negative, about Michael Manley’s contribution to Jamaica’s development, there is no denying that he sought and identified practical approaches to creating an equitable and productive society.
In such a society, people would work their way to personal and national advancement and success rather than win their way through family contact and social privilege or the luck of whatever draw was available to them... be it the national lottery in 1972 or political patronage in 2022.
Like his father, Michael recognised the critical contribution of education to the development process. He also recognised that in both access and quality, Jamaica had a great deal of work to be done, if we were to realise the vision of his father and the party which they had both been given the responsibility of leading, namely, that we would have pride in declaring that we came from Jamaica.
Implicit in that phrasing is the understanding that we were part of a global community, with our own distinctiveness and with a history of being outward looking. With respect to the outward look, Michael, by virtue of his own experience, his education, his philosophy and the period in which he served as leader of the nation, would naturally make the connection between national purpose and global inter-connectedness.
If his promotion of a New International Economic Order was important to him, and necessarily related to Jamaica’s future prospects, then no less important was his insistence that there should be a national assault on adult illiteracy.
Nobody could deny the intellectual brilliance of this man, his passion for social justice or his ability to make sense of his world by relating what might seem as disparate and unconnected portions of his concerns and preoccupations, interrogating them and then arriving at a point of integration, which presented a coherent vision or plan to satisfy himself and to lead others.
Michael came to national prominence in 1953, as a supervisor in the newly formed National Workers’ Union, with responsibility for workers in the sugar industry. By 1955 he became island supervisor and from that position launched out on a programme of engagement and leadership which significantly transformed the profile of labour relations in this country.
I need not dwell on the principle he established of referencing employers’ ability to pay rather than using sector and skills comparators. That had its benefit and its downside, and my own view as to which was the greater is neither here nor there.
What was of great importance, however, was his promotion of worker education. He was clearly aware that workers who have an understanding of the work environment, the laws of the land and the drivers of productivity which impact their functioning are more likely than those who do not appreciate these things to be effective citizens, union members and performers.
Worker education was a part of the empowerment of an important segment of the population, to whom all other citizens have an obligation and from whom the rest of society expect satisfactory performance and an appreciation of civic responsibility.
That focus on worker education was clearly an outcome of the identified need to build capacity within the trade union organisations. Allied to that purpose was the need to increase broader understanding among academics, the citizenry at large and managers of enterprises about the inter-relationship between management and labour.
If I may digress somewhat, I share a recollection of some observations by Michael’s brother, Dr Douglas Manley, who in one of his psychology lectures to the post-graduate Diploma in Education class at Mona pointed out the importance of management-worker relations, whether it be in the school or any institution. He introduced us as students to the principle of applying what he called “the law of the total situation” — something which has guided me through life. But to return to Michael and education…
Clearly, training and education which involved analysis rather than an acceptance of received wisdom from those in authority were for him important elements, both in personal development and in building effective social participation and the exercise of personal and social responsibility.
It was clear to Michael Manley that trade union effectiveness required educated membership at the workplace level as well as at the management and organisational level. For its sustainability and relevance in a changing local and international environment, it was particularly important that the movement should be led by a cadre of highly competent, well-educated professionals.
The Trade Union Education Institute, now the Hugh Lawson Shearer Institute, was led at its inception by that celebrated Renaissance iconic Jamaican man, Rex Nettleford, and Michael Manley found that entity a valuable resource.
He also encouraged and facilitated the engagement of his officer corps in the executive of the union to pursue higher education qualifications here and abroad.
At the risk of attracting the displeasure of some, perhaps many, within the sector today, but in keeping with the theme of this lecture, I am obliged to make a brief observation on this element of his education legacy.
I believe that despite many advances within the movement nationally, and many creditable adaptations to the changing nature of industrial relations, Michael Manley would be disappointed by the recent management profile of the union which he so effectively served.
In the first years of the current decade, despite the availability of research, within the institute and elsewhere, and the opportunity for dialogue and policy development in the Joint Trade Union Research and Development Centre, questions have been raised as to whether the management of that particular union possesses the adequacy and orientation of qualified personnel to make a decisive contribution to and imprint on the local and regional trade union landscape.
I believe that in both the recent restructuring of the union and in the personnel occupying key positions, the trend is being reversed. Long may that situation continue.
Michael’s ascription to unionism as a vehicle for empowering people is as applicable to the country today as it was when he made the statement referred to at the very beginning of my observations and I believe that he would wish the present situation to reflect that role, with all the necessary and most effective human resources available to drive the process.
But just in case there are those among us who believe that the position as I articulate it reflects a kind of unworthy genuflection to intellectual arrogance, let me state that I do have respect for academic excellence and the application of intellectual rigour in virtually all spheres of organisational management.
While it is true that many of our intellectuals have been criticised for not living up to their promise or to their national responsibilities, it cannot be denied that on balance, we have been generally well served by our academics. Of course, this is not to deny the relevance or value of experience, commitment, political astuteness or what is now described as the softer skills which play an increasingly important part in human resource management and effective negotiations.
But I would argue that to discount the value of appropriate academic qualifications would be a colossal error and a dangerous misreading of future trends. The trade union organisations have no right of exclusion on this matter.
Of course, Michael himself was an exemplar of all that is best in the link between education and development.
Notwithstanding his historic and dramatic decision as a schoolboy to resign from that great educational institution on Old Hope Road, Michael never, at any stage, doubted the intrinsic value of a sound education. Indeed, that memorable decision may have stemmed from one aspect of the school experience to which he later made reference in The Politics of Change, where he commented that not one single thing in the school curriculum had taught him anything about attitudes.
His father, who engaged him in intellectual discussion and debate, his professors at London School of Economics, his colleagues at the workplace and in the political movement as well as the social coterie of which he was a part could attest to his appreciation of the value of the general and the specific education he received at different points in his life, and particularly that which encouraged questioning and analysis. Its impact on his own scholarly works and its contribution to the quality of his leadership are self-evident.
It is not surprising, therefore, that he was dissatisfied with both the access to and the quality of the education which he believed Jamaicans in general ought to experience. Within his first 24 months as prime minister, he was to introduce several critical new initiatives which had the potential to change both the social configuration and the productive capacity of the Jamaican nation. I refer to the National Minimum Wage, the National Adult Literacy Programme, the National Housing Trust, and the Free Education Policy.
Given that human experience is constantly affected by the reality of unintended consequences, it is also not surprising that 40 years later, not all the expectations have been fulfilled. But I would argue first that the initiatives were visionary and well-founded, second, that they are not to be faulted even now, and thirdly, that we have an opportunity — I venture to say an obligation — to realise the benefits to be derived from them all, but particularly from the education initiatives.
“Free education” as a slogan may have had popular appeal. Nevertheless, the purpose of the measure might well have been missed or at least only partially understood. Despite our desire for justice and the income disparities which prevailed in 1972 and which have not yet disappeared, there remains within our psyche a sense that what is a free commodity is not as good as what you pay for.
There was another regrettable response to the measure. Interpreted in the context of an expressed democratic socialist ideology, it exacerbated concerns among the unenlightened within the social elite about the mixing of the children of the privileged and the poor in the classrooms of our public high schools. This, of course, had begun to become an issue from 1957 when the “free place and Common Entrance” categories of students were formally introduced — at that time under the Norman Manley Government.
Notwithstanding the perceptions, the radical policy decision of the Michael Manley-led Administration in 1974 was a watershed development in the history of Jamaica’s education system, and opened up the possibilities of a transformation of the Jamaican society.
Free education was not about charity. It was about equity and empowerment. It was about removing at least one of the major impediments to accessing the level of education from which every learner had the potential to benefit.
Opening up access to the secondary and tertiary levels of education was intended to have both practical and psychological implications for the Jamaican society. Among the practical implications and outcomes was the increased enrolment in both secondary and tertiary institutions during the two decades of the free tuition regime.
Of course, there was also a necessary increase in the allocation of State resources to make this possible, and inevitably there came a point when the programme was no longer sustainable in its original form, and had to be brought to an end.
For the record, the tertiary enrolment in 1972 was 2,423. In 1976/77, it was 12,812. Before the end of the century it peaked at 26,609 in 1989/90. By 2005, it had risen to 35,638. It is currently 43,746.
The psychological implications were even more important and are reflected in the numbers related to a post free-education regime.
The society was beginning to accept that social class and income level need not prevent those who were serious about personal advancement and the creation of an equal opportunity nation from being a full participant in the country’s development. Michael Manley’s decision to move the country in this direction was based on his view that “Education is the key to what must be self-transformation”.
He envisaged that for this transformation to happen, it would be necessary to take a fresh look at the purposes of education and, consequently, at the nature of what and how that education was facilitated. What frame of reference would be adopted by those who delivered the education product and what should we expect from the consumers of that product?
Indeed, I believe he would have phrased the questions more in terms of what kind of experience should the learner have during the learning process and what kind of citizen he or she would become.
He was very concerned about developing mental capacity and intellectual curiosity on the one hand and an understanding of self and one’s relationship to society on the other. I quote him again: “It is not enough that education should transmit our accumulated knowledge and skills from one generation to the next, because most of our difficulties can be traced to the inadequacy of our skills and misdirection of our knowledge.” (1974)
Forty years after he wrote those words, if I were a certain type of preacher I would repeat them and say to the congregation, “Do I hear an Amen?” Suffice it to say that his message has both resonance and relevance with us today, and I will remind us of this point as we look at the matter of legacy before I close.
There are three aspects of Michael Manley’s contribution to Jamaica’s use of education for empowerment to which I now turn briefly, by way of elaborating on the scope and strategic value of that contribution.
The first is the insistence on reducing the level of adult illiteracy. He expressed the view that a person could not feel himself or herself a full citizen if that person is excluded from so important a part of the common experience. However, to anyone who defined the need for social inclusion or interpreted the commitment of the political party to the building of an alliance of the classes, there is no doubt that the creation of that adult literacy programme was extremely important to Michael Manley’s construct of a just and equitable society.
By seeking to engage all strata of society in the programme, including the private sector, the professionals and the privileged classes, he was convinced that JAMAL represented — in his words — “a bridge of common action being built across the chasm of class”.
At the risk of once again straying into the personal and anecdotal to make what I hope is a relevant point, I recall from the distance of rural St Ann in 1972 taking note that one of the new prime minister’s early visits was to the Central Police lock-up in Kingston. Of course, I wondered why, and I came to the view that he was sending a signal about the importance of social conscience, the importance of interrogating our existing observances of human rights, and the recognition that the sense of alienation from the mainstream was something which needed to be addressed.
Perhaps it was a bit of a stretch, but I recalled the verse of Scripture which linked the mission of proclaiming freedom for the prisoners with recovery of sight for the blind. In short, it suggested to me a mission of liberation, not in any way subversion of the laws of the land but a new focus on creating a society in which handicaps were minimised and potential for greater positive accomplishment was acknowledged and facilitated.
We may recall during the high days of the adult literacy programme the testimony of the senior citizen who acknowledged the sense of new power she experienced as she could both read the Bible and read for herself the letters which came to her — no doubt from a relative overseas.
The second indication of the scope of the transformative value of education was reflected in 1990 when UNESCO was preparing to host the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand. The purpose of that conference was to find ways of providing basic education for every child by the year 2000. Basic meant education up to the end of primary education. The aim was ambitious even then and, of course, was not realised. In fact, despite the international focus on the Millennium Development Goals for 2015, that target set in 1990 will again not have been met 25 years later.
For us, however, what is significant is that Jamaica made a major contribution to that 1990 conference by proposing that the nations of the world should not be satisfied with full access to primary education but that basic education should be defined by nine years instead of six, which, in our case, would have meant up to the end of lower secondary or grade 9 in our present system.
I am fully aware that at this point we would be dissatisfied even with that position, notwithstanding that it might have seemed at the time to be quite an advanced one, particularly being promoted by a developing country and a small island state. And this is precisely the point about the Manley vision.
Accepting that we had to proceed developmentally on an incremental basis, to move along step by step, Jamaica was saying, nevertheless, let the steps be large ones, at least as large as we can possibly manage.
The final of the three aspects of the contribution of Michael’s thinking to future development was again associated with UNESCO, and this time in looking at education for the 21st century. In 1992, Michael Manley was invited by Jacques de Lors, former president of the European Commission, to contribute a chapter to a UNESCO-commissioned publication which was finally entitled Learning: The Treasure Within. He responded with a most insightful reflection on the role of the teacher in fostering the desire to learn and the many dimensions of education to which the teacher would make a contribution in the 21st century.
In a sense, he could be seen as completing the circle which his father had started. Norman Manley had positioned the teachers of Jamaica as enablers of the people and leaders of thought and influence awakening the society to their possibilities as a nation. Michael Manley, envisaging a connected and interrelated community of nations, recognised the critical importance of the teachers as shapers of a new learning paradigm which equipped the learner to be a permanent learner, aware of the fact that in century 21 (to use a phrase which gained currency in more recent times) change would be the only constant.
In the chapter which he contributed to the publication, he identified five points inter alia, to guide the teachers in their provision of education:
1. The school of today and tomorrow must plant the seeds of caring and nurture the concept of an over-arching humanity in which… all occupy an equal place in a process of permanent social inclusion.
2. Education must impart both marketable and social skills.
3. An education system must operate within the context of a social compact, with Government as the broker, but which compact is understood and supported by all.
4. The provision of adequate resources is not the least of the issues which must be addressed by each society.
5. In the context of the greater use of improving technology in the delivery of education, it is imperative that we never lose sight of the teacher, in this personal, interfacing sense, as the critical element in the education process.
Allow me to refresh your memory as to the summary position of that UNESCO document. It identified four pillars on which the education structure should rest: Learning to Know; Learning to Do; Learning to Be; Learning to Live Together. I think we would all agree that the world is a long way from there, certainly from the fourth pillar.
But as we turn to reflecting on the education legacy of our fourth prime minister, it would be helpful to refer to his identification of four pillars of the education platform on which, as he saw it, we should build for Jamaica’s future. We should note that these were articulated by him almost 30 years before the UNESCO exercise.
He promoted self-confidence, individually and collectively, as the psychological foundation on which self-reliance could be laid. (Learning to be?)
He wanted the Jamaican learner to accept social co-operation as the foundation of national success and achievement. (Learning to live together?)
He believed that acceptance of the work ethic was necessary, both as a means to personal satisfaction and as a prerequisite for the personal investment which an individual had to make in order to achieve his goals. (Learning to do?)
He thought it was important that the educated person, the educated Jamaican should be trained to be capable of self-perception. This self-perception would result in an awareness of self in relationship to the social group and ultimately in the social group being better able to relate to the larger environment. (Learning to know oneself and to be self-critical?)
It is not surprising that these pillars bear a similarity to those which would be designed by the architect of a democratic socialist platform, and for that the designer would not make any apology. And lest we be tempted to dwell on any perceived partisan or doctrinaire political coloration, let us be reminded of the fact that it was under Michael’s leadership in the 1989-92 period that the broad-based, multi-sectoral National Council on Education was established as an all-inclusive advisory and functional entity with a specific remit to depoliticise elements of the education system and process.
The important question is whether these pillars have relevance to a Jamaican society in 2014 seeking to reach a desired level of social and economic development in the next 15 years.
I posit that they do. I suggest that they are substantially in line with the later directions of the de Lors Commission UNESCO Report and that they capture the essence of what our approach should be in a globalised, connected, technology-driven, knowledge-oriented world economy where the only constant is change.
To make our way in such a world, we need the kind of person, the kind of society, the kind of relationships and the level of skills and competencies which Michael Manley envisaged, described and sought to facilitate while he had opportunity.
Unlike a distinguished and highly qualified prominent Jamaican contemporary of his who reckoned that Jamaica did not need local universities because for the few managers that were required, we could send persons overseas and bring them back qualified to manage, Michael believed that we needed a high level and large number of tertiary graduates to bring Jamaica into the mainstream of development.
He believed that at the early level of education our children should share a common quality experience with differentiation only to accommodate the learners with special needs, including the gifted and talented.
He believed that all education should prepare individuals to be open to innovation, with the confidence to face the unfamiliar, even the unimagined. He believed that social responsibility was not an added extra but an integral part of the education experience.
He expected the learner to have the opportunity to develop the attitudes necessary for living successfully in society. And he believed that learners and workers should be equipped by education and training to be fit for purpose.
None of this is exceptionable. All of it is consistent with good practice in a country on the road to full development.
Much of it informs our present policies and practice. Whether by deliberate design or by a subconscious infusion of the philosophy of education espoused by Michael Manley, Jamaican education has been pursuing a path broadly consistent with what he envisaged.
The current National Development Plan Vision 2030, which was constructed on the basis of wide consultation and enjoys bipartisan support and endorsement, speaks positively about the role and quality of education in achieving full social and economic development.
Some of us may even recall the debate and discussion in mid-2007 and the proposal of the then Opposition Leader Mr Bruce Golding to fund fully the education of students in the government secondary schools. Even then, a commentator in the Sunday Gleaner of July 29 urged consideration of “the full complement of the education revolution by incrementally funding tertiary education in the next phase…”
The question is: Are we pursuing the development path with the skill, the resources, the commitment of all those whom we need to advance the progress? How well are we doing in the critical areas necessary for achieving our development goals?
I leave it to you and others to answer these questions and to reflect on the supplementary questions which I will add.
Were we unrealistic in expecting that those who benefited from the significant opportunities created by the Michael Manley education initiatives of the 1970s would be more effective and more generous in sustaining our developmental drive and the processes required therefor?
Is it the case that too few of that generation display the attitudes of social consciousness and moral obligation on which Michael Manley placed so much store?
The education sector, under current leadership and management, continues to pursue a partnership approach with the private sector, parents, churches and civil society in general. The tradition of the party led by Norman Manley, Michael Manley, Percival Patterson and Portia Simpson Miller continues. One should also note the emphasis on preparing learners to be thinkers and equipping them for entrepreneurship, for jobs in the present and in the future.
But is the education system generating the passion for individual and national progress through a prioritisation of education and training? — prioritisation and planning at the level of the family, in the policies of major enterprises, including the banks and insurance companies? Has it been, for us as a nation, at any time “the next big thing”?
Can we encourage more foundations which commit significant funding to our universities to accelerate the achievement of first-world standards, become magnets for international students, provide the research and development facilities to drive innovation, increase corporate profits and build the economy?
How can we do more to empower the full spectrum of our learners and at the same time to imbue in all of them a sense that we belong to each other and that we are individually stronger if our empowerment enhances our individual capacity and reflects itself in more care, concern and respect for others?
I believe that in accordance with Michael’s concern that the educated Jamaican should be a questioning, searching person, I encourage you to question, to propose solutions and to be a part of the caring community which takes the action to give substance to and to build on all that is good in the legacy which he has left us.
As a postscript, I would remind that Michael Manley also saw the importance of reassessing our appreciation of our heritage, of seeing the people of Africa through a new lens and indeed connecting with them at all levels — governmental, economic, social and cultural. In that context, he would support the concept which I have come to share from my most recent engagement with the University of Technology. It is expressed on the African continent as Ubuntu. I am because you are. Empowerment, Equity, Justice. Opportunity.
Thank you, Michael Manley. The word is love.