Reconstructing Education in Jamaica: A Model for the 21st Century
Lisa K. Soares
(As a guest blogger on The Ward Post, Lisa continues to offer a Youth Perspective on Jamaican Diaspora Engagement Imperatives.)
(11 June 2017) — I spoke on the subject of “Youth and Education” recently at the 2nd Annual Calabar Old Boys Association (COBA) United Kingdom Spring Gala & Dance in London. Specifically, on how the Jamaican community might engage in the betterment of our country and take a closer look at the needs of the next generation and nation building, by re-constructing Jamaica’s education system into a 21st century model. My views are extended here to Jamaica and friends of Jamaica on The Ward Post.
First, congratulations are extended to Jamaica’s young scholars in primary and preparatory schools who achieved optimal results in the 2017 Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). At a press conference on June 09, The Ministry of Education reported a “notable improvement” from last year’s results and that ‘99 per cent of the students who sat the exam have been placed in high schools as opposed to all-age and junior high schools’. The Minister of Education, Senator Ruel Reid, cautioned, however, that ‘while students’ knowledge of concepts was particularly high, it fell when asked to analyse or apply deductive reasoning.’
Comparatively, I draw attention to the 2017 Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Jamaican Ivy League Rankings. For those who are unfamiliar, the CSEC Ivy League Ranking Table is a report compiled by Educate Jamaica that ranks the performance of Jamaican High Schools achieving 50% or more of their CSEC (for the older young folk that is CXC) 11th grade/5th form cohort passing a minimum of 5 CSEC subjects (including Mathematics and/or English). Out of 160 schools in the 2017 report, 116 schools are below a 60% pass rate, and 133 schools below an 80% pass rate in a minimum of 5 CSEC subjects (including Mathematics and/or English).
Jamaica, this means, in 2017, only 27.5% of our high schools achieved 60% and above, and 17% of our schools 80% and above, in a minimum of 5 CSEC subjects (including Math and/or English). One could dispute how these rankings were calculated, but in any fora, frankly, this is alarming and definitely raises concerns.
It is the case that the academic focus in our high schools needs strengthening. For pride and industry, it is time to pause and think about what skills are needed in the toolkits of our boys and girls, young men and women, to ensure their success as pioneers of nation.
A few considerations:
- The current model of education in Jamaica needs to be reinvented to a holistic approach to not only address the needs of individuals, but, also, the needs of the society to which they contribute.
- We are typecasting the range of options available to our students. The law that governs Jamaican education is churning out lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. Yes, these are important. But, the template of success needs not be limited. We need to expand our curriculums to include individuals interested in building construction, agriculture, media/journalism, sports management, music, or art. In essence, a focus on what I call non-traditional careers, but also, a special emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is needed.
- We need to then think about moving past the model of just sitting subjects by incorporating skills training. A degree alone does not get you a job in today’s world. An important question asked by today’s employers is: What are your skills?
How can Jamaica embrace these considerations?
Preparing young men and women for the next step involves not just sitting subjects but acquiring skills. That’s the model that needs to be embraced if we, Jamaica, are to excel beyond sports and/or traditional academics.
It’s certainly worth noting that a lot of work is being done to reinvigorate STEM paths and non-traditional foci to prepare the next generation of nation builders for the future. For example, Calabar, largely through their alumni, has embarked on a Technology Upgrade program including a Robotics Program in partnership with Carnegie Mellon. Jamaica College has streamlined an Aviation Program, and Camperdown also has embarked on their own Robotics Program. There may be others, but more traction is needed, and support and resources are required.
The key takeaway is that we need to diversify the skillset of our economy, especially as we enter a period in our traditional relationships that are being defined by Brexit and Trumpism. There may be new opportunities for Commonwealth States, but are we ready? These new dynamics must be taken seriously.
As a Youth Leader, I feel obliged to raise awareness, see things differently. We need to start recognizing the value of our youth and what it should and needs to be. How can we who have direct ties to Jamaica and love for our boys and girls in high schools, technical schools, prep schools and primary schools, and, in general, our education system that produces such brilliant minds do better for them— what can we do better?
~ For the Russell family & my Calabar lineage (over 50 years and counting)
Lisa K. Soares, MS (Dist.), CIR. is a daughter of Calabar; a graduate of Campion College; a former Future Leader North-East USA Advisory Board member; recipient of the Governor General’s Achievement Award for Excellence Jamaica Diaspora USA, 2015; and is PhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom.
Each time the results come out we see the same disappointing statistics and little has changed for more than a decade regardless of which party was in power. I appreciate you raising awareness yet again and for asking some specific questions while also pointing out the need to look beyond test results.
In the USA we continue to have debate about teaching to the test, educational reform and the needs of society as well. I do not have the answers for education reform but I think that other countries have shown that they do have the answers and we need to more quickly adopt their ideas and then adapt them for our culture and students (not everything can translate).
This means looking at Germany’s apprenticeship system, Singapore’s education system and other countries. The plan was written in Vision 2030 but we are so behind on actually implement most of that.