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UCC and CMU beacons of hope for Jamaica's education system

Henley
Morgan

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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No other period in history has experienced the degree of change that the world has seen in the last 75 years. Since the invention of the transistor in the 1940s, and ushering in of the age of computers, change has been relentless and rapid. In bygone eras, change of this magnitude rendered whole species extinct.

The formal education system is in danger of falling behind in producing what countries and businesses need in the way of knowledge in order to be globally competitive. The poorly educated blue-collar worker is among the most obvious casualties of rapid global change. With an illiteracy rate approaching 15 per cent of the populace, and a workforce in which close to 80 per cent of the workers have received no formal on-the-job training, the spectre of 17th century workers in 21st century work environments is a feature of Jamaica's productive landscape.

In the mid-1990s, the United States Department of Labour set up a commission to determine the entry-level skills and attitudes people needed in order to be successful in the workplace of the future and to make their employers and countries competitive. The commission's findings included:

1. Workers must know how to allocate and properly utilise time, money and materials. Workers must be able to work on teams, to train others, serve customers, as well as work well with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.

2. Workers must possess digital literacy; be able to acquire and evaluate data, interpret and communicate information, and use computers to process information.

3. Workers must be able to select equipment and tools, apply technology to specific tasks, and maintain and troubleshoot equipment.

4. Workers must possess basic competencies; be able to read, write and do mathematics, and demonstrate effective speaking and listening skills.

5. Workers must possess the ability to learn and to reason; to make decisions and to think creatively.

The knowledge, competencies, skills, attitudes, and behaviours required for competitiveness in the 21st century are beyond what our local education system can presently deliver. In the knowledge economy, and the global dispensation, our best efforts at educating our people could be producing dinosaurs even before they graduate.

The depressing truth is that, unlike the Republic of Singapore, whose leader Lee KuanYew in the 1960s looked at Jamaica as a possible benchmark for his country's development and which is today a highly developed trade-oriented economy, Jamaica has failed to make strategic investments in its human and social infrastructure. Our public education system has fallen badly behind in playing its role in creating social transformation and fuelling economic growth.

On Thursday, September 28, 2017, my spirit was lifted by two academic events of historic proportion which I attended. The first was the inaugural Innovation, Technology and Leadership Conference put on by the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC), Jamaica's and the Caribbean's largest and most prominent privately owned and operated university. The conference was excellent, but most impressive is the development taking place at the UCC's Worthington Road campus. Attendees at the conference were hosted in an ultra-modern, 200-plus-seat lecture theatre in the company of world-class academicians and their students. Dr Winston Adams, UCC Group executive chairman; Professor Dennis Gayle, executive chancellor; Geraldine Adams; and other members of the UCC family are deserving of the highest accolades for their foresight and faith in Jamaica's future.

Later that same day, the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) held its Charter Day at the National Arena with about 5,000 people in attendance to mark its transition to full university status; making it the Caribbean's first specialised public university and the only one with global industry connections and reputation. Those who follow the news would be aware of the miracle unfolding at Palisadoes Park, but words cannot adequately describe the pomp, ceremony and discipline of the charter event due in no small measure to the uniformed high-stepping CMU cadets. Council Chair Hyacinth Bennett, of Hydel Group of Schools fame; the incomparable Professor Fritz Pinnock, president; and the hard-working CMU team can be justly proud of an institution that is ensuring Jamaica's place in one of the world's most important industries in this the age of globalisation.

Sadly, only 11-15 per cent of Jamaicans make it to the tertiary level to benefit from these developments. While Senator Ruel Reid, minister of education, youth and information, with the help of all Jamaica works on making his vision for public education in Jamaica a reality, we can take hope and encouragement from the significant developments taking place at UCC and CMU.

hmorgan@cwjamaica.com

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