Dr. Canute Thompson
April 6, 2022
The report of the Orlando Patterson-led “Jamaica Education Transformation Commission, was presented to the government in late 2021 and continues to await public debate. The Gleaner newspaper is to be commended for its leadership in debating aspects of the report and urging a national discourse. The government has also, it has been reported, named a chair for an implementation oversight committee. This is a necessary first step and it is going to be essential that this committee rigorously holds the sector to account.
I have been contributing the debate on the report and more broadly on the state of Jamaica’s education system for a few years. (I list below a sample of publications which address various facets of the education sector in Jamaica and the Caribbean). Among recent publications, are:
- “A Call for Public Discussion of our Educational System and its Transformation” authored by Dr. Louis Moyston and published in February 2022, in leadershipreimagination.com
- “Understanding the Crisis in Jamaica’s Education System and Shaping the Call to Action”, authored by me and published in March 2022 and also published in leadershipreimagination.com.
It is vital that there be a sustained and focused discussion on the issue of Jamaica’s education system.
The context of the Patterson Report
The Patterson report is framed in the context of two major issues: the “long struggle to overcome economic stagnation and social instability” and the “COVID-19 pandemic”. The report noted, as has been widely established that the former was exacerbated by the latter.
The “long struggle” to which the report speaks has been discussed by several authorities, but I am particularly moved by how Nigel Brissett (in a 2018 article entitled “Education for Social Transformation (EST) in the Caribbean: A Postcolonial Perspective” published in the Education Sciences Journal), articulates it. Brissett argues that education system transformation must:
“take(s) account of the enduring deep-seated legacy of asymmetries of power, exploitation and inequality in the broader society and within the education system resulting from colonialism and now exacerbated by globalization’s processes”.
The Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning (which I currently lead), examined the issue of the endemic and long-standing inequities and disparities in the Caribbean region’s education in its November 2021, Newsletter. This was a special policy-focused issue which proposed solutions related to governance, leadership, resource allocation, critical thinking, accountability, and the impact and opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution for addressing these long-standing issues. By taking account of these long-standing problems in Jamaica’s education system, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Patterson Commission laid the foundation for justifying recommendations for addressing the consequences of these realities.
The constituency and consultative processes of the Patterson Commission
Against the background of the fact that the Patterson Commission was, understandably and inevitably, informed by the realities described above, the Commission, wisely, engaged in widespread consultation.
The report was a whopping three hundred and forty-six (346) pages, so anyone wishing to study the report should plan for a long read. The Commission comprised fifteen (15) members and twenty-four (24) co-opted members. The Commission held thirty-one (31) meetings plus over fifty (50) meetings held with other stakeholders by its six (6) subcommittees.
In addition to consultations with the Prime Minister, there were consultations with thirteen (13) representatives from the Ministry of Education, including the Minister; three (3) former Ministers and Junior Ministers of Education, plus another eighty-two (82) leaders of various agencies of the Ministry and other organizations.
The brain power and experience were substantial, literally hundreds of people and thousands of years of experience (combined).
Content and contributions of the Report
With the context taken into account being plausible, and the constituency consulted being appropriately wide, the big question was: What has the report brought, given that there have been several commissions and taskforces over the decades?
Generally speaking, the report did not provide substantially new facts or analysis (compared to previous reports) beyond data which would have been published subsequent to earlier reports but the analyses, recommendations, and conclusions were largely similar to previous reports.
The report spoke about the poor performance of most of our students including the following:
- “70% of students leaving high school without a certificate
- A majority leaving schools without marketable skills
- (That) Although there were indications of improvement between 2002 and 2018 in a the GSAT and GNAT primary school-leaving exams, the recently introduced PEP (Primary Exist Profile) exam, which shifted away from memorized learning to the testing of analytic thinking, revealed major deficiencies in the level of learning achieved by students: only 41% passed in mathematics, 49% in science, and 55% in language arts.
- In 2019 some 32,617 students sat the CSEC exams (54% females/45% males), of which only 42.5% passed 5 or more subjects including English and/or mathematics. Overall, only 28% passed 5 or more subjects with English and Mathematics. In the CAPE exams, pass rates are low and have been declining: only 45% passed the Diploma certificate at an acceptable level, and less than 40% of those who took the exam gained Associate degrees”.
- “The island’s tertiary rate of enrolment is 27% well below that of countries at its level of development”
These are facts which several stakeholders have been repeating and lamenting for decades. There may be minor changes in the percentages but the scope, scale and direction remain unchanged for decades.
The report contains several recommendations, too many to be counted, and it is a pity that the exact number was not stated in the Executive Summary. There are twelve (12) numbered recommendations related to TVET in the Executive Summary and reference is made to fifty-four (54) prioritized recommendations. In addition to the fifty-four recommendations referenced in the Executive Summary, and the twelve TVET recommendations, there is another bulleted list of recommendation (in that section), but it is unclear whether these are part of the fifty-four prioritized recommendations mentioned. It would appear that the fifty-four major recommendations are on page 109 and following, but the identifiers used are letters of the alphabet, which are aligned to some, under which are other unnumbered recommendations.
The accessibility and friendliness of the report could have been greatly enhanced if the presentation of the recommendations were clearer. It would be useful to devote an entire chapter / section to all the recommendations. In respect of the substance of the recommendations, it is accepted that many are relevant but too many speak to issues which have either been recommended elsewhere / before or things which are currently being done.
- Recommendation (b), page 109: Allocations to schools based on need. This recommendation has been made repeatedly by several persons, for years.
- Recommendation (c), page 110: Election and training of members for school boards. This matter has been debated for decades.
- Recommendation (d), page 111: Training of principals in strategic planning and change management. This is currently being done.
- Recommendation (e), page 112: Review of structures of the central ministry to make it fit for purpose. Reviews have been done and new structures proposed (under the Education System Transformation Programme), but these new structures have not been implemented. (Some recommendations under the 2004 Taskforce Report such as the creation of the National Education Inspectorate, Jamaica Tertiary Education Commission have been implemented).
- Recommendation (g), page 114: Adjusting the role of education officers. I dealt with this matter extensively in my 2019 book, Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean.
The Report’s major area of value
The area of the report I find most valuable is major recommendation (a): Making Education a National Priority, through the establishment of an EPOC-type structure to mechanism.
The idea of an EPOC-type mechanism finds resonance with me based on the clear acknowledgement that education is in a crisis. In setting the context for my 2008 dissertation, I had repeated a call I first heard made by Ralph Thompson, for the declaration of a state of emergency in education. An EPOC-type mechanism would require, among other things, what I am calling the REPAIR. The fact is that our education system is broken and must be repaired before it can be transformed. This process of repair involves, the:
- Removal of education from politicking and partisanship
- Enforcement of performance metrics to which schools are held accountable
- Provision of resources to ensure expected performance standards can be met
- Allocation of special support for the most needy and vulnerable families
- Increased competence and accountability on the part of principals
- Retrofitting of schools to that the ideal environment for learning is created
Funding for tertiary education
The report, on page 35, in one of twelve bulleted recommendations, proposes the establishment of “A voluntary saving scheme should be established through a public-private partnership wherein parents (up to a prescribed income level) are allowed tax free saving toward their children’s tertiary education”.
This proposal reflects my recommendations concerning the establishment of the Child Opportunity Trust Fund. The exception is that under the proposal which I have outlined, which was first articulated by Basil Waite, former PNP MP, I advance the idea of a partnership among government, parents, and the private-sector (financial institutions).
|Same of publications on the Education Sector in Jamaica and the Caribbean Thompson, C.S., & Wilmot, A. (2022) “Jamaican teachers’ perspectives on power and their capacity to contribute to the work and mission of their schools: A qualitative exploration”. Power and Education: Online Thompson, C.S., Prescod, G., & Montgomery A. (2020). An Exploration of Philosophical Assumptions that inform Educational Policy in Jamaica: Conversations with former and current Education Ministers. Kingston: Arawak Publications. Thompson, C.S. (2020). Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean. Foreword by P.J. Patterson: Kingston: The University of the West Indies Press. Thompson, C. S. (2019). Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean. Introduction by Errol Miller. Kingston: The University of the West Indies Press. Thompson, C.S. (2018). Planning for improvements in boys’ academic performance: Towards a better understanding of the role of teacher-student relationship. Educational Planning Journal, Vol. 24 (4), 59 – 76. Thompson, C.S. (2018, March 27). Equity and transparency in funding secondary education. Jamaica Observer. Thompson, C. S. (2017, January 23). ‘Inside the black box’ of school underperformance. Jamaica Observer|
Dr. Canute Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership at the School of Education, The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, and Head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning. He is author of seven books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com