Columns

Education, yes! Let's leverage small things to get big results

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, August 31, 2018

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Education is big business for Government, the private sector, and every punter has a horse in this race. Now everyone is an expert, yet it was not always so. The church pioneered education and vocational skills for blacks; was funded by the British and 50 per cent of schools are now owned by it.

Freed negroes built towns, created wealth by these skills. Yet in the 20th century their scion favoured the Classics of the rich, not the white working class artisans, civil servants, traders, as dirt should not touch their hands.

As now, church schools were tops; endowed schools did well, Government schools were the pits and jealousy was born. Since the '50s Cabinets prized education but were not able to fund it, so the World Bank, the IDB, and Britain built schools, wrote curricula; the USA gave milk, butter, cheese, bulger; Carnegie put in camps at Cobbla, Chestervale, etc.

Jamaica is the most aided nation, even from Iran and Trinidad. Yet our massive debt of 2012 was not all consumption as schools were built, some went missing; curriculum written but did they work? Today, we assign near $90b to education and still 70 per cent of students fail. So, despite what PM Holness and Minister Reid say, parents should give to schools to grow quality.

Parents give to Immaculate High School, which aces exams and educates youth well. If a poor-performing State school had Immaculate's resources, might it have similar success? Is the intention of outlawing parents' fees to dumb down church schools and narrow the performance gap? Minister Reid should give disadvantaged schools the equivalent of parents' contribution to Jamaica College so they draw level in funding and by 2021 may have quantum uplift.

Sir, they have the same teachers, so we never know unless we try. At least give the funds to a pilot of 50 schools and observe the results. Meanwhile, do a reality check.

The purpose of system is to produce 99.9 per cent to standard always, but in education we are happy with 80 per cent as per Pareto. Our system has great samples — Spelling Bee winner, Rhodes Scholar from a poor school, ABRSM piano student, first in the world — but fails the masses. So what small stuff can we do to help?

First, put back the joy into education. Minister Reid, back-to-school is negative, so flip it — smile! Every year near 40,000 kids are born; move through each level in declining numbers — by truancy, migration, death; yet guided by trained teachers but more than half fail. There is too much aggro in education, so since it's not working change tack; give schools autonomy and judge the results. We need 80 per cent mastery of basics by age 12 and 80 per cent to ace academic or technical exams by 2030 so we celebrate success.

Early childhood education to age eight is Job 1. Prime Minister Holness has kids, so he knows the leveller is good early schooling. Sir, make “a promise to posterity” for a trained teacher — one in 25 in these schools before election 2020. Many are already there but give all an equal start. Borrow if we must as this is fundamental to our future security and prosperity.

A marketable skill is priority, key to personal success and growth in goods and services. The missionaries were right, as most kids join the workforce and need a skill, not a degree. Politicians and teachers must speak truth to parents. Most jobs require TVET, STEM or competency-based skills and few degrees.

People who innovate, design, fix mobile phones, cars, TV, apps we love, do not have degrees in teaching, history, religion; they have technical training. Our tilers, electricians, welders earn six figures. What of your degree? Both Mayer Matalon and YP Seaton are billionaires from what they studied at Kingston Tech. How many are millionaires from degrees granted by all universities? Don't diss technical school.

The foundation is crucial. By age 12 kids must master English speech, writing, reading; the four functions in Maths and think critically as all knowledge is in books, on the Internet. Marcus Garvey, our prolific, erudite hero, trans-national businessman, philosopher, was self-taught, spoke impeccable English. The core of critical thinking is not scientific method (there are similarities) it is English problem-solving analysis; the argot of comparison, contrast, nuance, deducing, synthesis, forming an hypothesis and arriving at a decision as to whodunit. Mastery of English is key. Don't sacrifice success by moving kids lock-step up the ladder. Yes, it screws up administration, but the law was made for man not vice versa.

Secondary and tertiary will work well if we succeed with the early years and the child readied for more content, design, to act and rules of engagement. At present a few academic, secondary schools are in demand, but once Cabinet pays the parents' contribution for the disadvantaged the focus will shift to the personal.

A student may choose a focus in heavy metal music, or recycling waste, or racehorse grooming, or airline logistics, or designing mobile apps, or channel management, or how to write lyrics; competence is essential, not a degree.

The UK targeted 50 per cent with degrees but dropped it as most jobs require a skill, not a fluffy degree. Soon, the three-year degree will disappear as the remedial content is no longer needed. The future is competency which aligns to-know with to-do; job ready students. Stay conscious.

— Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon) is a strategist and project manager; fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); lectures in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the Mona School of Business and Management at The University of the West Indies. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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