On a point of order, Franklin Johnston

BY Stephanie Sewell

Thursday, January 17, 2019

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Dr Franklin Johnston's column of Friday, January 12, 2019, 'We need a Ministry of Schools', was an odd mishmash of pseudo-analysis with glaring misinformation.

Point of order: The author wrote, with apparent seriousness, that schools were “doing well” 70 years ago, and that transformation of the education system began eight years ago under the former administration. These 'alternative facts' are easily dispelled.

It is true that with Jamaica's gaining independence from Britain in 1962 there was increased hope among hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans with more places being made available in secondary schools and the passage of the Education Act. The catalyst to these changes started in the 1930s however, when Jamaicans expressed dissatisfaction (lightly put) and frustration with the social and economic conditions of the country. It was following these events that the Moyne and Kandel reports were published, with damning findings on social services offered in Jamaica.

Readers should be reminded that, for decades, secondary education was largely the preserve of the upper class, and usually descendants of planters, alienating those who could not afford it, or were of a darker hue; therefore, perpetuating the long-standing status quo and social hierarchy.

Incumbent Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid inherited an ailing system characterised by dilapidated classrooms, inadequate furniture, pit toilets, limited access for children with physical disabilities, and a poorly funded school feeding programme — all of which have been consistently undergoing transformation since 2016. The sanitation programme has borne fruit, with new sanitation facilities built in 39 primary schools since 2016 where previously there were pit latrines. And, some 69 new classrooms have been built to allow for the removal of nine schools from the shift system since the 2016/2017 school year with others benefiting from improvement and expansion of their facilities. Thirty-three infant departments have been built so far in alignment with the increased focus on the modernisation of the early childhood sector. These programmes are still underway as the transformation continues.

While “free education” remains a yet-to-be achieved ideal, as parents still contribute to transporting children to schools and ensure that they are clothed and fed, the Andrew Holness-led Administration has achieved universal primary and secondary education, abolished mandatory fees at the primary and secondary levels, and is providing one cooked meal per day for five days a week for its most vulnerable students. Indeed, the Government is making incremental steps to transform Jamaica's human capital.

Dr Johnston posits that education should remain void of political interference and general politicisation, but it is clear that he is unable to restrain himself from ignoring his own advice. Yes, people have different perspectives, but there are valid strategic reasons for the deliberate decision to marry the education, youth and information portfolios. How better to observe, fund, and implement policies and programmes that impact youth than to intervene at the main point of contact between young people and the Government: schools? How strategic was this decision that the prime minister should select former The University of the West Indies Guild president, attorney-at-law, youth and children's rights advocate, and member of the youth population, Floyd Green, as minister of state to lead that component of the portfolio. Even more strategic was for the prime minister to select former Jamaica Teachers' Association president, former chairman of the National Council on Education, teacher, master teacher, and principal of the Jamaica College to lead the ministry. Senator Ruel Reid has served at several levels of the education system in the aforementioned posts and has had direct exposure to the activities of the ministry and the policymaking process as advisor to the prime minister when he was the education minister.

I endorse the imperative in the column to “Do the math!” Instead of doubting the minster's capacity to transform the education sector, take some time to calculate the difference between 50 per cent (the average pass of all subjects entered in Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams at Jamaica College in 2006) and 80 per cent (average pass in 2014). Perhaps while calculating this, you will also see why the enrolment moved from under 1,400 in 2006 to 1,850 in 2014.

One does not need special insight to discern the transformation that has been taking place in the entire education sector since the arrival of this new Administration. One only needs the vision to understand the importance of education as a tool to deliver equity and prosperity to a population that has been suffering under fees and increasing costs. That is the key to escaping poverty and achieving the prosperity agenda.

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