Friday, August 31, 2012

We must agree on education

Based on some discussions I was having on Facebook recently, I have made a decision that I will offer no public commentary (written, interviews, or public presentations) on the macroeconomic environment, debt, IMF, or any predictions on where the economy is going, for the next few months. That is not until late January 2013. I will restrict any public commentary to any specific issues, more to deal with matters outside of any discussion on the macroeconomic environment, such as public sector rationalization, education, crime, energy etc.

I will still however accept any calls from anyone in the media who wants an explanation of certain issues, which I do give occasionally. Just that it will be for their own personal consumption. The reason for those who have asked is that I want to focus on some specific issues I think are very important and leave the economic issues to those charged with the responsibility for it.

What I would like to discuss today, however, is a matter that came up during the last administration, and has arisen again. In the last administration both the then education minister and the opposition spokesperson on education, agreed that children should not be forced to pay auxiliary fees to school, as everyone must have access to education. This time it is the current education minister who is saying that students must pay the auxiliary fees, and the opposition spokesman is saying that they should not for the same reason.

On the first occasion I was a member of the Jamaica College (JC) school board, and saw the negative effect that the lack of these fees can have on the general quality of education, as there would be no resources to run the school. A big part of the problem is that government does not provide enough funds for a school to even exist, much less to provide quality education.

My position is the same today as it was then. That is auxiliary fees are essential for the school to run, and government should not expect that the schools can run without filling the funding gap, which they don’t have the money to do. If the students do not pay this fee then how can we expect that the equality of education will improve, particularly in the schools that are already struggling to keep up with the more traditional high schools? How can we expect to turn out greater productivity in the work force if we do not provide quality education att he secondary level because of lack of funds?

It is for this reason, and my first hand experience, why I am fully in support of the position of the education minister on this. We always say that we want someone to lead by doing what is right for the country, and not popular or politically motivated. Well this is an example of a principled position.

In our 50th year of independence, how can we seek to encourage this dependency syndrome at such a basic level? The auxiliary fees average maybe around $10,000 per year. That is the equivalent cost of a phone, a few weeks call credit, a pair of shoes, two trips to the hairdresser, or going to a party or two. Why would we want to encourage any parent out of making the right choice for the sake of their children? What sort of society would we encourage when we do that.

In any event the solution cannot be for persons to pay auxiliary fee if they want. The system must be that auxiliary fee must be paid, and if you need help then seek some assistance through the government programme. But not continue to give the people a fish rather than teach them how to fish. Or is it that politicians still want people to remain dependent on them for handouts, lest they lose their power.

I see for example that politicians have come out against the recent eviction of some squatters, and saying that government must find a place for them to live. If the land is owned by a private individual don’t we understand that when as politicians we make these sounds that we are saying that private capital is not welcome? And if we scare private capital then will it not mean that the same people we are trying to help will only get poorer? Or are we content with how our society, and dependency syndrome, has developed over the last 50 years and want to continue it.

When someone has eight children, with another on the way, is it the responsibility of government, and other taxpayers to take on that responsibility. Please let’s start the change we need in this country and not start teaching the next generation that they should rely on government for everything. Auxiliary fees, especially at such small amounts, must be compulsory and I fully support the minister on his stance. It is all about taking personal responsibility for our actions.

If after we gained “political” independence in 1962 this was the theme throughout the society, we would have seen much higher standards of living today. Instead we have a lower literacy rate than Barbados and Trinidad, and we had no choice but to reverse the “free” education policy started in the 1970s, which to my mind was a good thing but did not have the structural support.

The other issue I want the minister to deal with is the dreaded GSAT exam. Years after it has been implemented we see where there seems to be a greater disparity between traditional and non-traditional high schools generally, worsening CXC results, and more importantly children focusing so much on academics that they shun in many respects the very important development aspects of sports, socialization, and health.

I see much academic talent coming out of the schools, but child health issues is a problem, and I find that the teamwork ability that we get from sports is lacking in many of the children. Maybe it’s because the other distraction is just sitting around a computer and video game.

Minister, I don’t know how many people will support you, but I am totally in your corner with this one, primarily because it is the right thing to do. If we disagree on everything else, one thing we must agree on is education.

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