Recently, Minister of National Security, and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang made a comment that, on the face of it, is bold and earth-shattering.
Dr Chang made the pronouncement that the majority of schools which produce criminals, for want of a better word, are underperforming schools, and that these schools have limited to no real funding apart from that offered by the State — an amount which is similar to that issued to other schools. It was also revealed that these schools, while also located in the inner city, are home to not the best teaching staff and are not properly outfitted.
I say on the face of it, shocking and revelatory because when one really digs into it, this is something which has been said for decades, going back to the 60s, and even pre-independence. In short, the issue is not new.
The fact is that most of the schools in this country fall into the “non-traditional and non-performing” categories. Is also a fact that these schools are woefully underfunded, and it is also a fact that the children who pass through these schools, more often than not, make up the bulk of whom you will find in our penal systems.
Unfortunately, this is not news, any first-year graduate of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, an organisation not known for its thinking, will be able to tell you this.
Dr Chang didn’t end there, he had a solution. He said that maybe, just maybe, what is needed is increased funding for these schools and a total reassessment of how schools are funded and staffed overall.
Again, kudos to Dr Chang for ‘bucking up’ on the obvious, for stumbling upon things which people have been saying for decades, and for coming to a conclusion that I had stumbled upon when I was but a boy.
But we all know deep down inside this is not going to change, and we see this with the joke which is the Sixth Form Pathway Programme for example, a scheme which is so woefully underfunded and so poorly planned that you can’t help but think that this is just another mechanism to line somebody’s pocket.
There is no increase in funding for teachers. There is no increase in the output of teachers from teachers’ colleges, in fact, there has been a drastic decline in enrolment rates. The exception is, of course, the STEM areas which have seen funding.
There are no art teachers, no history teachers, and no English language and literature teachers. These are the areas in which these “underperforming schools” need the most assistance.
It is not being done and it is not being done in a way that we all can see.
We all witnessed this disregard for the education system and teachers during the last round of compensation review and wage negotiations where teachers have been forced to make do with less and be happy about it. We are witnessing the underfunding and hollowing out of the education system with the steady drip, drip of migration, which is now besetting the education system.
But why won’t it change? Well, the answer is simple: It won’t change because the country fundamentally has not changed. We really live in the same country that existed in the 1950s when the comprehensive and all-age schools were opened. Those schools gave you education up to third form, or grade nine.
This was because what was required in those areas and in the majority was that people were educated and literate enough to go out into the fields to chop cane, pick bananas, plant cane, plant bananas, do a little tallying and sign your name on the cheque book to collect your salary. Nothing has really changed, and we still live in the same plantation society which our education system efficiently supplies.
We require a populace trained just enough to provide a luxury stay at a hotel, or just enough to answer a phone. In short, just enough to do the bare minimum, but never enough to actually do anything meaningful.
This will not change, no matter how many times politicians speak of the need to have critical thinking skills honed in schools because if you have an educated populace, it is a lot harder to control them. You no longer simply have a dissatisfied populace or a populace filled with ‘anomie’, unable to act. Instead, you would have a populace which understands its role and understands the corruption that has been meted out over the years and which would not stand by these politicians.
That, again, is the reason the education system is not going to be changed and cannot be changed by those at the wheel of power.
It could all end tomorrow — the education system being fixed as well as the social issues. Traditional schools, such as the one I went to, such as the one my father went to, such as the one my sister went to, do not require State funding. These are, and quite frankly, have been in need of State funding and were brought under the rule of the State, not because the schools wanted to, but because really, they were forced to.
These schools had been doing all right before and will be doing OK if let loose from the State. There is no way the old boys association of St George’s College or Kingston College or the old girls association of St Andrew High or Immaculate High are going to let those schools deteriorate. It’s not going to happen and we saw that with Jamaica College and Calabar which were, in recent memory, transformed from schools that you would have thought twice before enrolling.
The State could and should stop funding traditional schools and instead turn its attention to non-traditional schools. This would allow for a massive increase in funding and allow for a greater increase in the salaries for public sector teachers thereby increasing the quality available to non-traditional schools as the teachers at traditional schools would be immediately removed from the public sector payroll.
But again, that is not going to happen because those schools — the non-traditional ones — are not meant to succeed while the others are designed to graduate the next PJ Patterson, Don Wehby, or Edward Seaga.
It is not enough to state the obvious, and it is not enough to state the problem. It’s a good first step but not enough. What is going to be done afterwards? That is the question, and that is the true test. We all know what the answer is, I think, but the true test is not acknowledging the two Jamaica’s but actively working to redistribute the wealth and power to ensure there is only one Jamaica. Those in power and waiting to ascend to power claim to know the way and have the answer. History shows otherwise. We’ll wait with bated breath, hoping that we are wrong.