EducationJamaican politicians are notorious for pandering to the gallery and flogging dead horses. We see the pandering all the time: works given out to supporters, glib comparisons about whose party is the most corrupt and the demeaning of both themselves and their supporters with their actions on the campaign trail. The examples of dead horses are far too many to count, but a few are the sugar industry (as it currently stands) and our solutions to crime and violence.

The biggest dead horse, however, is also combined with base pandering, and it is not crime (as most persons response are understandable and only human and the solution is long in time and would take careful explaining to get across). It is education. Our politicians are keen to sell us the dream of a free education. It is something which we have had in the past (70s-90s) and it is something which a large number of Jamaicans justly want.

Now, I am not opposed to a free education. In fact, I am a proponent of State-funded education from the cradle to college, however, I also understand that the country cannot manage that financially.

I am not a learned scholar, but I understand that the nation is broke and on its knees at the moment, and that is why I am surprised to hear the opposition leader stating that he aims to send the first child in a household with no graduates to college for free. I do not want it to seem that I am insulting the opposition leader with this critique, but surely, he, as a former finance minister, must know that that is a burden which the State would have a hard time managing (if it could manage it at all). Does he think that our overlords in the IMF would allow this, or even the Fiscal Council if it is set up in time?

The leader of the opposition knows this, but much like the PM (with ZOSO and SoE) he must pander to the base and flog the most convenient dead horse, and education was available.

If the leader of the opposition is serious about education, its reform and how it fits into building a more productive Jamaica, then there are many options available to him without burdening the State now (we can talk about free education in 10 years). The easiest one would be to fully fund early childhood education and train more early childhood educators. After that, you would fully fund the high schools, train more teachers and pay them better so as to retain them.

But how would that deal with the college deficit? People, after all, need to go to college if they are to make something of themselves, or that at least is the mantra which has been drilled into our heads. The answer again is simple, look around you, at today’s jobs and the jobs coming tomorrow, most of them will not require a degree unless you are going into medicine or law. Everything else can be done with a solid high school education, and that is not a glib statement or a knock at colleges.

One of the biggest jobs of the future is going to be computer coding. As I write there are actual five-year-olds creating computer codes in schools from China to Sweden. We aim to retain our status as a tourist hot spot, therefore there is no reason why the rudimentaries of hospitality management can’t be taught from 5th to 6th form.

We constantly hear the cry that we lack certified electricians, welder, plumber and tilers, can’t these be taught in the high schools? We bemoan the state of our farming. If schools had the funding they could buy land and use it to teach future farmers. We could graduate batches of students from 6th form with theoretical knowledge and if we are worried about their practical abilities we could send them to masters of the respective trades to be apprenticed.la

All of the previously mentioned are good jobs, jobs which will last through the future and which can be taught in high school. The smart thing to do would be to redirect funds from the Students’ Loan Bureau (SLB) to finance early childhood to secondary education and then make it genuinely ‘free’ with no user fees.

Again, this is not to say that college is not needed. Funds would have to be left in the SLB to fund students who wish to study in areas which will build the nation. Areas in the medical field, architecture, teachers, engineers and persons who study the sciences, that should be the focus of the Government when it comes to distributing from the SLB. Note that this does not mean an end to lawyers or historians. People will have to teach those subjects so naturally they will have to go to college, but what it does is rationalise in a sensible way what really is a finite resource — the State’s ability to pay for education.

Aiming for a college education is great and wanting everyone to have access to it is something I truly support. However, going about it in this slapdash, feel good today way will only burn us in the long run. I say again, do we really think the IMF chiefs will ok us spending even more billions (which we don’t have) in order to allow people to study poetry (not a knock against poetry)? The same IMF which blocks us paying our teachers, nurses etc a decent wage? Is it the first child in the immediate family or does the extended count? Such simple details will matter when the bill is due.

Ensuring that every child and person in this nation gets an education should be a top priority and it is good to see politicians talking about it. What we need to do now is move from pandering and dead horses to practical solutions and clearly explaining to the people how the plan will work.

Not everyone can go to college right now, but almost everyone in this nation can be equipped with the skills to take us through the 21st century. Funding early childhood education up to high school with monies from the SLB is the way to go. It can grab every child in this nation and prepare them for the future, be they those who only do high school and are making code for the doctors’ machine or the doctor who graduates university and treats the high school graduate coder.

Please, let us think seriously about the topic of education (and all others for that matter) rather than going with our gut instincts. We’ve done the latter for over 50 years and are where we are now. Let’s do the former and at least get this one right this time. Melky Cabrera Womens Jersey

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