Thoughts on Education for Development

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The Jamaican Experience – 1900 to 1980

Prior to internal self-government, Jamaica had historically depended heavily on religious orders to provide secondary academic education. The only schooling the state provided was FREE primary education and some teacher training. This teacher training started as an adjunct to the primary school system which could be extended through a sixth form to the pupil teacher diploma and entry to teaching colleges like Mico. In theory the free primary offering would seem to engender a decreasing level of illiteracy in the population.  In reality teaching centers tended to be less effective in rural, and more so in deep rural, areas.

In far too many circumstances prospective students would often need to travel several miles each way. Then the level of individual fiscal incapacity for clothing, books etc. was more often than not, just absent. Better trained teachers would rather accept urban engagements. In consequence, rural populations lagged behind their urban counterparts, and substantial levels of illiteracy persisted in those areas.

 Apart from agricultural training (Farm School), the legal and accounting profession (articled   personnel), the Nursing cadres (government run hospitals), the government roads and works, railways and survey dept. and the constabulary; the major source of technical training for commerce & industry was provided through the system of apprenticeship. That system included plumbing, bricklaying, carpentry, mechanics, barbering, leather ware, semesters to name a few; could only provide training on the “need for” basis.

This situation could not promote skill upgrading as a general policy for improving the overall technical capability in the population. The trained cadre would not take in more trainees than required for their need. The elementary school leaver wishing to graduate into trade is hard pressed to find employment (and the concomitant training) outside of existing establishments. To some extent this deficiency was mitigated in the rural context where parent to child transfer of basic technology in agriculture and farmstead maintenance occurred.

Then self govt. and subsidized high school fees. Then Edwin Allen (thank god for him) re-enforcing Primary with Technical, Agricultural and other non-scholastic only (comprehensive) institutions. Then we addressed learning dysfunction from hunger with a feed the children program. Then we established a cadre of extension officers to promote rural agricultural upgrading etc.  Inevitably these expansions must require substantial infrastructural inputs. This increase in physical property acquisition, accommodations and equipment was made possible when new and substantial revenues sources (bauxite levies) became available in the sixties.

To Mind the greatest failing occurred when  parliament imposed a building department on the ministry of education, adding un-necessary technical and administrative burden to that agency. Certainly there were other agencies of government already in place to prosecute the infrastructure phase of the program. But then I can no-how claim to be a guru or aficionado in the how-to or when to of such things.

By inference a corresponding effort should have been launched, adding to teacher training capability and  improving teaching standards. From personal observation at that time the shortages were filled by graduates from the secondary schools. Whether that group of persons were in fact adequately qualified teachers and therefore appropriate to be the final cadre is of course moot. Whether the technocrats in education realized there would have to make provision for corrective training of this group is also moot. Readers will have to do the research for themselves.

The seventies brought about a new impetus to address the inequities in educational opportunity for children from less affluent families. The general subsidies previously available to Jamaican citizens for tertiary education at the UWI was redistributed such that, qualified graduates unable to finance the standard portion of tuition would be eligible for total funding through these subsidies. The initiative also included a condition which reserved a fixed percentage of available placements at UWI for applicants whose fiscal circumstances fell within the criteria stipulated for that entitlement.

There is no doubt that this initiative has gone a far way to addressing the social inequalities which existed at that time. The impetus was in my view a must and all well-meaning Jamaicans should be proud to  acknowledge and admire the good sense and bold behavour exhibited by the political directorate of that period. There remains however the issue of teacher  competence and other result enhancing inputs. I hope to address that area of the subject with a following Paper.