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The educational escalator down (part 2)

In his recent report on Jamaica’s education sector, Professor Orlando Patterson emphasized the urgency of transforming our education system so that all Jamaicans can realize their potential and contribute to Jamaica’s development in the 21st century. This call to action is relevant for all seasons.

Our inability to achieve this is attributed to a shortcoming in implementation. We all know what needs to be done, but we continue to hesitate. But: “Whatever the cost of education, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.
(Walter Cronkiet)

Jamaica spends a similar share of 5.2 percent of its GDP and 19 percent of its government expenditure on education (see chart).

However, these data do not tell the whole story. The most important statistic is the per capita expenditure for each student.

Our 2024/2025 estimates are $159.7 billion for the education budget, which serves approximately 495,500 students, of whom 232,000 are at primary level, 211,800 at secondary level and 51,700 at tertiary level.

This funding amounts to $322,000 or $2,064 per student for the school year.

The OECD average is US$40,705 ($6,349,980) per student per year. Taking a closer look at the breakdown, this amounts to $10,658 for primary school students, $11,942 for secondary school students and $18,105 for tertiary students.

The United States and Norway spend $66,511 and $57,234 annually per student in primary, secondary and tertiary education, respectively.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, and Jamaica spends about 5 percent on education compared to other countries. With a per capita income of $10,674, compared to Jamaica’s $6,047, Turkey spends $17,999, or about eight times as much as Jamaica.

This allocation seems inadequate if we want to transform this sector and provide our students with quality education that makes them globally competitive in a world without borders.

It should come as no surprise why our teachers leave our shores daily. They strive for better wages, opportunities and work environments.

I appreciate the government for the recent increase in teacher salaries. Yet it does not go far enough if we are serious about addressing the problem of retaining our dedicated teachers in the classroom and attracting more talented Jamaicans to the profession.

Yet it should not just be about money. Many of our teachers, through their commitment, have dedicated their lives to uplifting our children, regardless of the personal cost to themselves and their families.

Over the years, I have become even sadder as the status and respect of the teacher in society has diminished in the eyes of the public. We must reverse that trend to renew the sector.

In the past, teachers were seen as your child’s second parents, and their wisdom and counsel were with them throughout their lives.

I remember my English teacher, Mrs. Bond, emphasizing, “Madam, it’s not about the whole; it is overall.”

Therefore, the government and private sector must treat our teachers with priority and greater respect. Why don’t we give teachers priority at the National Housing Trust? Teachers with 10 years of experience should not require a down payment to qualify for a home; If you can’t trust a teacher after ten years, who can you trust?

We should ask our hotels to offer free weekend stays to teachers based on space available, and supermarkets or restaurants to give unique discount cards to teachers with maximum value. We should also encourage tax deductions for companies that offer these unique special offers to our teachers. For example, 50 percent of the discounts could be tax deductible.

I believe this national policy would create a mentality that says to our teachers, “We appreciate the work you do.”

Why teachers and no one else? It is not because they are not other meritorious professions. However, without teachers there would have been no other professions.

As I said last week, the current state of our education system is unacceptable. The PEP exam showed that most students could barely read and write; 33 percent could not read, 56 percent could barely write and only 45 percent passed the diploma certificate in CAPE. This is another wake-up call and we need to fix it.

These statistics also show our implementation gap, which starts with a shortage of resources.

Let’s define what we as a country consider non-negotiable:

(1) We must ensure that every child who attends school has resources at home or at school, does not go hungry and has access to healthy meals.

(2) Every child deserves a school place and quality education.

(3) Priority should be given to early childhood education and primary education. These objectives will not be achieved with the current financial allocation, so let’s start by doubling the currently budgeted amount.

(4) The concept of ‘Free Education’ should be replaced by ‘Every child has the right to quality education and should not be denied quality education’ (even if you cannot afford it).

Suppose we divide the education budget to be financed 50 percent by the private sector and 50 percent by the government. The private sector could have three sources of financing:

(1) Those based on a verifiable income criterion would be able to pay the total cost of their children’s education.

(2) An education bond with an interest-free term of five years, sold to the local population and the diaspora. People would have access to long-term loans to pay for their children’s education, which would be repayable from the future earnings of parents and/or children.

(3) The creation of an education lottery with both cash and corporate donated prizes. In the US, the state primarily owns lotteries, and the operator receives a service fee, not the profits; they use the profits to finance education and other social services.

The result of improved education funding sources will be more schools, more teachers, and a better teacher-to-student ratio, resulting in a better-educated population that earns better wages and reduces crime.

We should also reward schools that improve their test scores with better grants and scholarships for their students. We cannot continue with the huge disparity in school outcomes, with some schools achieving 0.048 percent, while others perform 64 percent or 133 times better on the average CAPE percent diploma (The Reform of Education in Jamaica, 2021).

So let’s stop talking and reporting now. Let’s start implementing the suggestions that already exist. Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought about financing it.

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