MINISTER of Education and Youth Fayval Williams yesterday assured the Manpower & Maintenance Services (MMS) Group of the Government's support for its relaunching of the Institute for Workforce Education and Development's (IWED) to provide technical and vocational training for Jamaicans.
"All of us who are here today know that a well-trained workforce is one of the key drivers of the country's prosperity and competitiveness," the minister told the relaunch of the IWED's programme of technical and vocational training for learners who could fill gaps currently being exploited by foreigners.
"We know that the gold is not in the mountains, but the gold is right here in our hands, in our creativity. And so, if the knowledge and skill of the workforce will determine the wealth of nations in the future, then education and training will become the key determinants of the wealth of the nation," the minister told the function held at MMS Eureka Crescent building in Kingston.
However, she criticised the country for having created a situation in which it views success as having five passes in Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) examinations, including mathematics and English.
"For many decades that was our mark, and so we found that annually, coming out of our high schools, of the 35,000 children who are born in Jamaica every year, we graduate from high schools with less than a third of these students with CXC results, including maths and English, and over those decades that would be the one pathway that we had," she noted.
"So, I say, what of the other two-thirds of students who, for whatever reason, did not meet the mark we set of five CXC subjects, with maths and English," she stated.
"Should we continue to discard them? Should we not care about their opportunities as well and, so for me, the answer is staring us in the face. Create other opportunities for those grade 11 students to also fulfil their potential. So I am delighted to know that IWED has taken on the Sixth Form Pathway [SFP] programme," she said.
She pointed out that when the programme was introduced, there was such a throwback that it shocked her.
"But, when I looked and saw where we are coming from, I was not daunted, because we were talking to parents, who were saying to us,'we are so glad for this programme'. Mothers who stood up and said, 'how do I sign up my son. I don't want him to be at home. I want him to go out and work a little job after leaving high school at Grade II," she recalled.
She said that, in spite of this, at the start of the school year prior to last September, 17,000 students signed on to the pathway programme, including some who had already signed up for0 the traditional sixth form programme.
Williams also assured the MMS team that the Government will continue to support their efforts.
"We are not disturbing your programme at all. Nothing about it will change. We are simply creating two other pathways for those students who, when they get to Grade 11 their future is not as certain, as those who are heading into the traditional pathway [programme], and then into tertiary. So, we have a technical pathway and a general pathway," she added, explaining that the technical is a vocational activity, while the general pathway is for students who went into Grade 11 and had no subjects.
"We still want you for another two years," the minister told the relaunch, which has been fittingly placed in the MMS 32-year-old programme as a multi-service organisation that comprises a number of entities catering to the needs of several clients infields such as commercial and other enterprises, hospitals, embassies, international organisations, entertainment venue, educational institutions, sports facilities, hotels wharves, shopping malls, factories and business process outsourcing (BPOs).
The SFP programme is designed to provide students with the opportunity to pursue multiple avenues for certification. Students will be able to take up programmes under three pathways under the programme. Pathways will be determined by their level of attainment at the end of Grade 11.
The MMS decision to absorb the pathway thrust was also welcomed at the function as an answer to the situation in which Jamaican employers have been taking on foreign skilled workers, which has been attributed to the lack of trained personnel.
MMS founder Audrey Stewart-Hinchcliffe welcomed the guests. Other speakers included the new chairman of IWED, Wayne Chen, and Opposition spokesmen Julian Robinson (Finance) and Damion Crawford (Education). Dr Dameon Black and Althea Althea Heron represented the Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission and the University Council, respectively.