Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Ronald Thwaites | Fixing high-school education

Published:Monday | July 6, 2020 | 12:09 AM

Face the truth. Two-thirds of those placed in high schools will wish that they had been assigned elsewhere – to what they and the society consider a ‘better’ school. Saying that a large proportion will be going to one of the six schools they preferred is quite meaningless. Parents and children are really interested in their first two choices. Equally disappointed will be the teachers who receive them in September. An unwanted placement is akin to a bad marriage: hard to get out of, difficult to make happy, best to be avoided.

But it does not have to be that way. We could change that now if we really wanted to. For if all of our 12-year-old children could read, compute and show respect at reasonable levels on September morning, even the weakest of our nearly two hundred high schools could soar. So we need to ask ourselves why this is not happening.

Why do we perpetuate inequality by our inaction? There is more than enough money now to remedy the malady. As before, it all depends on how we choose to spend it. Right now, our Government has decided for us to cut the capital budget (never a good thing), pay down our debt (good in non-crisis times) rather than invest more in education and training (the main way to get out of the crisis).

In the last few days, the Jamaica Teachers’ Association has called attention to this inbred apartheid. Teachers, even more than parents, understand the frustration and the folly of trying to impart advanced concepts when proper foundations have not been laid. Teachers ought to rise up against once more being given straw basket to carry water.


But what is the JTA proposing as a remedy? After all, they, along with the Faculties of Education at our universities (who need to earn the money from this effort) ought to be advancing a strategy to reverse the underachievement of the education system. But we are not hearing from them. Who else can we turn to, especially at a time when everything else hangs on a superbly trained, educated and morally disposed citizenry?

With the best of intentions, the Ministry of Education is too preoccupied with holding the system together to plan for its transformation; the political parties too caught up with election mania, and the churches still cowering under the weight of ministry paperwork and money worries to take the lead.

What if we were to accept Peter Bunting’s proposal for a task force anchored in the National Council on Education, with targets and timelines, to revision the new academic year and beyond. It is past shocking that neither the National Recovery Task Force, the Partnership Council, the Economic Growth Council (if they still function) or any of the consensus-promoting voices have placed relevant, affordable, equitable education as their primary concern.

Social distancing, as prescribed now, will not be possible if we purpose to bring all our children back to school in September. Plan now for more pre-term testing, spend some money on improved sanitation, and encourage the use of masks where physical separation is impossible. The occasion provides a great opportunity to teach better hygiene, inculcate values and practises of self-esteem and consideration of others.

Principals should stop their mind-bending and futile effort to count heads and reconfigure classroom space. Better to teach the students to be careful and responsible.

Last, for now, here are 10 minimum achievements which all of our students should achieve by age 18.

1. CSEC or equivalent certification in English language, mathematics and information technology.

2. HEART Trust/NVQ certification in at least one employable skill set.

3. A psychosocial evaluation.

4. A comprehensive physical health assessment.

5. A police record.

6. TRN number.

7. National voter registration.

8. A bank or credit union account.

9. A passport.

10. A driver’s licence.

What else? And why not?

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central. Email feedback to