Department of Education offices at Heroes’ Circle in Kingston..
The education sector is under enormous pressure to care for some 120,000 students each year, from elementary school to university. This year is going to be even more difficult as we struggle to deal with the aftershocks of the ‘COVID’ years 2020, 2021.
Those were simpler days when, in the 1940s and 1950s, educators of the time shared a vision and an awareness of the enormous task of dismantling a system that catered to the privileged while ignoring that part of the population widely considered underclass and unworthy. of any form of universal education structure.
The history of education before these years is confused by the earlier strategies of slave owners to keep black people uneducated so that they would keep their place as servants and laborers.
Before the Emancipation Act went into effect in 1834, there was little formal education system and absolutely no slave education system. White settlers who could afford it sent their sons back to the “mother country” for schooling, while others hired private tutors. Those who were less well off sent their sons to one of the few free schools created thanks to legacies from wealthy planters and merchants.
It was the churches that took charge after emancipation, gradually developing a system of elementary education for newly freed slaves.
Interestingly, the first elementary school established in Jamaica for black children was built in 1823, 11 years before emancipation, in Rowe’s Corner, a small neighborhood near Alligator Pond. Senior Olive’s Book Jamaican Heritage A-Z gives importance to this, pointing out that the school was called Somerset and was built by the Moravian Church. Three years later, it was transferred to Lititz where the Lititz Basic, Elementary and All-Ages School proudly stands. Consider this: in 2023, it will celebrate its 200th anniversary.
The school was renovated into a beautiful building by neighboring bauxite/alumina company Alpart in 1996. Next to the school complex is a beautiful Moravian church. The elementary curriculum focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic with religious training and occasional lessons in geography and history. In addition, boys received training in agriculture and other manual arts, and girls received lessons in sewing and home economics.
As colonial and plantation influence waned, it became necessary to move native Jamaicans into civil service and clerical jobs, resulting in the growth of the secondary school system and the creation of government scholarships for university studies abroad. Elementary schools began to hold annual scholarship exams to allow some children who could not afford the fees to attend secondary school.
In the 1950s, as the Ministry of Education began to better manage its enormous responsibilities, clear definitions of the different components of the structure of education – basic, primary, secondary, tertiary emerged. Today, the ministry is one of the largest and most widespread government entities in terms of Cabinet accountability. It is made up of 11 agencies, six regional offices and a central office with perhaps 40 units that fall under five divisions.
Based in what Jamaicans teasingly called after it was built in 1958 at 5 South Race Course as “The Glasshouse” (so named after our then Minister of Education, Florizel Glasspole), the Ministry provides the operating framework for more than 1,000 public educational institutions that serve more than 120,000 students and more than 20,000 teachers. It is also responsible for three universities and several community, multidisciplinary and educational colleges.
But with the COVID-19 hiatus, the Ministry of Education has a lot of catching up to do. Teachers and students are playing a game of chance, aggravated by the social problems that have arisen as a result of this enforced absenteeism.
Mind you, before COVID-19 we already had a learning crisis, lagging behind global and regional goals. In 2018, 35% of fourth graders lacked basic numeracy skills. According to World Bank simulations, a 10-month school closure put Jamaica at risk of losing 1.3 years of learning-adjusted years of schooling. Worse now that the “school is out” period has moved closer to 24 months.
And before we even hear about on-call rings and the like, a study by the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) on the impact of COVID-19 on the links between school absenteeism and violence found that “the tweens and teens who had no learning devices were dropping out of school and forming cliques, carrying knives, smoking, gambling and fighting. Girls are also at higher risk of sexual abuse and exploitation when they are out of school”.
I was as happy as you to see our students in uniform return to school. In many cases, the school had to start from “zero”. They face many problems of shortage of resources, shortage of teachers, anti-social behavior and huge learning gaps to fill. These are universal issues and our Department of Education has risen to the challenge well. But from the various opinions expressed by respected public figures speaking on education, there seems to be now, finally, a universal acceptance that the Glasshouse, with its enormous areas of responsibility, has become very heavy and must do a lot of preparatory work on its educational basis. .
The influx of students with disabilities in literature and mathematics, who flood into secondary and higher institutions each year, seriously jeopardizes our educational vision for 2030. These students have been deprived, for the most part, of basic learning skills that, if properly imparted in the basic stages, would have provided the higher level structure with legs to stand on.
But, stop there. The “Reform of Education in Jamaica 2021” report chaired by Professor Orlando Patterson was released in January. The report highlights the need to place greater emphasis and channel resources towards early childhood education. Is there anyone out there listening?
And, in his remarks at the launch of the report on January 14, in the presence of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Education, the professor did not mince his words: “Early childhood education is fundamental”, said he declared in the media. , “It is the foundation on which education exists.
“Work done not only by educational economists and sociologists indicates the importance of early education not only on later education, but also on later social behavior.”
He also pointed out that data from the 2019 PEP results indicate that a majority of students leaving primary school remain illiterate and unable to count.
Professor Patterson said results from the 2019 Primary Exit Profile (PEP) show almost 60% of pupils were failing maths, 33% could not read, 56% could not write and 60% had comprehension difficulties.
We can’t go on like this, says Ronnie Thwaites, himself a former education minister.
It is good to know that the report was well received by the department. “It is an excellent report,” says Education and Youth Minister Fayval Williams, “and if we faithfully and diligently implement the many recommendations, they will begin to show dramatic results. [short-term and long-term] results,” she added.
My Thursday night think tank contribution to the education debate suggests that we should appoint a separate ministry for basic education to accommodate early childhood, primary and all ages, while the other, for the Higher education, or perhaps higher education, continues to lead secondary and higher education.
The role of this Foundation ministry, fully equipped with its own staff and resources, would be to prepare and bring our children to a stage where they can be presented or introduced into the mainstream of high school as fully literate.
The foundation ministry should be the foundation of education in this country, the pivot, but with the same importance as the higher ministry. The early childhood and primary school sector should have its own minister, its own curriculum, its own education officials, its own buildings, its own accountability to the nation. Otherwise, we miss the vital importance of this sector – the basic levels of all future education in Jamaica.
Consider This: The opening mission statement under the education section of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 National Development Plan is: “To ensure that all children from zero to eight years of age have access to adequate early childhood education and development”. Commendable and correct, but such a goal cannot be achieved piecemeal.
Every child has the right to the best possible start in life. Research has proven that the early years of a child’s life are a critical time for cognitive, social and emotional development, creating a strong foundation for health and well-being throughout childhood and beyond.
But now here is the revolution; the turnaround that would demonstrate that Jamaica truly believes in the value and importance of providing a strong foundation at junior level, where it matters most, so that every child can learn and every child must learn.
Lance Neita is a public relations professional and freelance journalist. Send your comments to the Jamaica Observer or [email protected]
Fayval Williams, Minister of Education.