July 25, 2022
One of the big lessons coming out of the Patterson Commission Report on Jamaica’s education system is the fact that it did not reveal much that is new – either findings or recommendations. Rather, the report in reiterating several of the findings and recommendations of previous studies (particularly the 2004 Davis Report) confirmed that very little has been done to address the ills plaguing Jamaica’s education system for several decades.
Jamaica, as a nation state faces a debilitating existential threat. The Patterson and Davis Reports make lay that reality bare as do several other reports and countless stories of teachers and other stakeholders. But the governments of Jamaica seem to be unmoved by this galling reality. Jamaica’s education system is in a chronic state. Piecemeal interventions, the current leadership at the Ministry of Education, and the current levels of investment will not be enough to overcome the depth of the problem the education sector (and by extension the country) faces
The foregoing conclusion was among the tough acknowledgements made by presenters and panelists at a recent forum of The University of the West Indies on July 21, 2022. The forum, which was a joint initiative of the Office of the Vice-Chancellor and the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, was titled “Examining the Patterson Commission Report: Lessons for transforming education in Jamaica and the Caribbean”, and aired on UWITV.
Two education systems – inadequate resources and limited economic opportunity
In her presentation, Professor Silvia Kouwenbrg, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, Mona Campus highlighted the systemic inequalities in Jamaica’s education system and cited the finding of the report which lamented the fact that there are two school systems in the country: one which consists of schools that are generally well-serviced and at which students excel but which mainly serve the upper social classes, and the other, “consisting of schools which receive children from working class as well as impoverished homes, which lack the most basic resources to help their children, not to mention the fact that many of the parents of these pupils are functionally illiterate or just plain illiterate.” (Patterson Report: p 66).
Professor Kouwenbrg noted that:
“The report of the Task Force on Education Reform 2004, a predecessor to the Patterson report, recognizes the ‘the poor performance at all levels of the [educational] system’ (p 4), and identifies ‘the chronic underachievement of the system in terms of the large number of students performing well below their grade level’ (p12) as the primary issue”.
The systemic problem of Jamaica’s education system failing students was narrated by Education Specialist Ms. Deatrica Ming, who teaches at the Primary level and who is also a graduate student in Educational Planning and Policy at the School of Education, UWI. Ms. Ming noted that despite teachers’ and school administrators’ best efforts, some students engage in learning in sporadic modes, thereby limiting their intellectual development. She lamented the fact that resources provided to schools are woefully limited and cited the fact that during the period of school closures, the students who did not access schooling were those who were already at a disadvantage.
This stark analysis of Jamaica’s dual education system, was shared by Robert Gregory, Education Consultant and Former Head of HEART-NTA and JAMPRO, who asserted that the structures and traditions of Jamaica’s education system preserve low-skill low-wage profile and result in many of our relatively few welleducated and highly trainable graduates being lured away by the social and economic growth opportunities offered by more developed economies and societies.
Impact of low educational levels
With students’ underperformance at the primary and secondary levels being low, the percentage of students who matriculate to tertiary education is also low. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many families are unable to afford tertiary education. Tertiary participation is at 27% in Jamaica. This compares to 65% in Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago, all three countries having landed campuses of he University of the West Indies. In addition, Jamaica has a national university and is home to about another four private universities and about a dozen offshore universities.
The nature of Jamaica’s existential crisis in education is brought into sharper focus when the consequences low levels of tertiary participation are considered. The table below illustrates.
Tertiary Participation in Selected Countries Compared to GDP Per Capita, Murder Rates and Global Innovation Index
|Country||Population||GDP USD||Tertiary Participation Rate||Murder rate Per 100k||Global Innovation Index|
The table shows three important correlations with high levels of tertiary participation, namely:
- high per capita income;
- high innovation index; and
- low murder rates
The vital lesson for Jamaica’s consideration is that with low levels of tertiary participation, it has the second lowest innovation index, lowest per capita income, and by far the highest murder rate, the third highest globally. This fact underscores the frightening depth of Jamaica existential crisis and the urgent need for radical, systemic and sustained turnaround of the country’s education system. The simple truth is, without a successful education transformation effort, Jamaica’s existential crisis will morph into a more frightening socioeconomic reality than is currently being experienced.
In the Part 2, we will look at some of the fundamental requirements for transformation. We will examine issues of structure, leadership, and new approaches to teaching and learning, drawing on the experience of other countries.
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 two award-winning books and articles, among his collection seven books and over a dozen journal articles, and the operator of leadershipreimagination.com website.