Ronald Thwaites | Still short-changing education
Audley Shaw gets it. Both at the Standing Finance Committee and again last Thursday when he opened the Budget Debate, he spoke convincingly about the human-resource deficit as the major cramp to rapid, inclusive and sustainable development in Jamaica.
But having understood it, the Government, of which he is a leading member, fails to provide the resources and some of the policies for education that are needed to correct the problem.
There is less money this year to even do the same things that the State said it would do last year, let alone pay for the advances that are urgently required. And for once, it is not a matter of being short of cash.
Nor is the situation projected to improve significantly for the three succeeding years, either.
How can this make sense? We love to talk about the successes of Singapore but, failing to follow the example of priority education investment so obviously successful there and in Cuba, we demur from giving the sector the resources and the long-term vision to position ourselves as the nation of well-adjusted, supremely skilled and highly productive workers: a breathtaking example to the world of what a fully emancipated New World people can become.
For that is our destiny. It is the only way we can become globally competitive; the only way prosperity, both spiritually and materially, can be achieved. Absent the genuine, not the mouth-water, commitment to education and training, GDP growth will limp along at around two per cent if we are spared natural disasters. Long lines at every embassy will stretch, and we will continue to breed a perpetual underclass so useless and alienated as to chronically turn on themselves and the rest of us.
That is the reality facing us, never mind the frenzied desk-thumping and the 'no new taxes' pink paper of last Thursday. If you have more money than you need, taken, after all, from people's pockets or by way of a mortgage on their future, please spend it on education and training!
The tragedy of this year's education budget is that, through long and continuing sacrifice, we are in a position now to seriously improve for all the opportunity that both Keisha Hayle and Nigel Clarke incarnate. But our governors are failing to do so even as they are full of vapid self-congratulation.
And most people think 'no better no deh'!
IMPROVE FAMILY LIFE
The nation needs an early-stimulation and early-childhood budget of between $12 billion and $15 billion this year. Spend this on improving parenting skills and instilling responsibility for child-rearing and give restored national family life a lift with the same money.
Spend plenty on a full nutrition programme for the little ones, using more expensive but nutritious local produce so as to break the sugary, salty, fast-food, obesity-inducing addiction and, not incidentally, stimulate the rural economy and ensure a more healthy population all with the same money.
Since almost 70 per cent of early-childhood teachers are untrained and several others, although trained, are misfits at that age level, spend plenty, plenty of this big money on training, retraining and recruiting suitable teachers and social workers to ensure all-ready students for the higher grades and save the billions spent, often ineffectually, on remedial programmes, all because we do not do it right the first time.
Any minister of education needs all the support possible to radically restructure the education system. Right now, he or she has no power to align human resources to changing need. And pending legislation will not provide for that flexibility, either.
The issues of structural reform raised here are only a few of the areas requiring immediate attention but which appear unattended in the Budget. Can we combine energies and insights to apply shared vision, willpower and more resources to the task of fundamental restructuring?
What we can do without is a disrespectful stand-off with the nation's teachers over their deserved inflation-plus wage settlement after trifling with the issue for a whole year, then throwing them a take-it-or-leave-it bone to chew on.
Unhelpful too, and damaging, is the squabble, born of arrogance, with the trusts and churches who operate schools and without whose property, legacy, ethical input and continuing investment a good half of the education enterprise would pop down.
Back to you, Minister Shaw.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.