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Is Ruel Reid dumbing down education?

Franklin Johnston

Friday, September 14, 2018

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Education is the last best hope for poor Jamaicans. School is an emotional subject because parents love their kids and want the best for them. Yet, for years Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid has been undermining parents' trust by cussing the best performing high schools. (He never cussed the worst schools.) He says Cabinet has given all schools the funds to deliver quality so parents should not pay auxiliary fees. I'm sure many school administrators would beg to differ.

A minister should not blunt parents' wish to pay as education gives good returns. We have never seen Cabinet fully fund any service – unless it is Minister Reid's advanced security detail.

So, how is education funded?

At $90 billion, the annual budget is the largest single source. And, with spend of 63 Members of Parliament from the Constituency Development Fund, it still falls short. More comes as cash, food, consultancy, material; millions from World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and foreign charities do building, medical, dental, and eye care for kids. The Diaspora gives millions and business donates massively, especially for scholarships.

Underpaid teachers also give, and a survey says UK teachers give 470.00 ($80,000) each to kids from their pockets; ours give pens, food, bus fare, and more. We spend some $200 billion on education from all sources and still quality eludes us. Immaculate High delivers quality every year and politicians pay the “illegal” fees for their kids, so don't be fooled by hype or your kids will get lef'!

Are auxiliary fees the key to success? Suppose Cabinet paid auxiliary fees for Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) students, say, equal to what high-end schools at that level attract, might they perform well at each level and, like St Andrew High School for Girls, in Caribbean Secondary Education (CSEC) examinations?

Quality at early childhood, primary, secondary in most schools is poor as students are not ready, yet are promoted. This makes tertiary febrile. We regret registrar of the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) Glenroy Cumberbatch told employers to “Look beyond CSEC qualifications for job seekers” ( The Gleaner, August 11, 2018), and this was “endorsed by Education, Youth and Information Minister Senator Ruel Reid” ( Jamaica Observer, September 10, 2018). But a two-tiered exit exam will divide, not create, the ecosystem of excellence in education we need.

CSEC is our school-leaving exam, a rite of passage for all kids. It is not an academic or job qualification but affirms that, at age 16, your kid can process information as other 16-year-olds anywhere. Despite attempts, Jamaica is not in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), but Trinidad and white-built South Africa are — no other black nation, though; why, slavery?

“PISA assesses the extent to which 15-year-old students have acquired key knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies.” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], PISA 2015 Report)

Singapore is first in science and 20 per cent of OECD students “do not achieve proficiency in reading”. A 16-year-old cannot work legally, so business must not be complicit in dumbing down or dividing. CSEC is our de facto high school diploma; all must do it! It offers chemistry, maths, physics, and also physical education, sport, agriculture, home economics, drawing, religious education, theatre arts, music, and more. Can't most of our kids pass five subjects on this list? Yes! So don't water down exams!

So, what's to be done? First, let's decide who is an educated Jamaican. As in PISA, all 16-year-old kids should start equal and run 100 metres, so to speak, few will equal 9.58, but 80 per cent must still master English, critical thinking and caring.

Next, what is the cost of a quality education? Check two schools with 80 per cent success every year at early childhood, primary, secondary; since all get the same subvention, what is the gap in auxiliary fees of these versus poor-performing ones? Is this difference the cost of quality?

Reid says adequate funds are given to schools. Sir, why don't they have results as Immaculate High? Politicians' kids attend high-end schools, so do as they do or “dawg nyam yuh suppa!”

We are a low-productivity nation, but must not drop standards to comfort losers. China, India are developing nations but education is competitive and they lift standards to get the best of the best. We lower them to screechy-in some at school; university and work. The impulse of the minister is to erode, not build quality, and business must not support mediocrity.

China is about to overtake America as the world's largest economy and they work at jobs our people will not. They aver nation is more important than individual, and they win big. We believe the individual is paramount, and we fail! Might a “China lite” model lead us to economic independence? Are we ready to sacrifice, uphold standards, be honest, reward success and failure appropriately?

Like CXC, I believe Minister Reid dumbs down, but we want to be among global innovators at age 15 and keep pace into adult life. Parents and teachers must defend education from all enemies! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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