Our Readers' Opinions
February 20, 2009
Rethinking Education

by Nilio Gumbs 20.FEB.09

The emphasis on Early Childhood Education, numeracy and literacy and universal access to secondary education are noble gestures to provide economical disenfranchised children with a head start to compete in the educational system and beyond. But there are caveats in implementing such policies and programs in the short run, such as the quality of education, carrying capacity of the education system and students functioning at the required level, which may have to be ironed out in the future.{{more}}

In any economy, economic growth hinges on capital, technology and the quality of education, which by extension influences economic development. The structure and the nature of education and its quality will not only be critical to our development, but also to our existence as an independent nation state.

Our education system and attainment levels in the past were fashioned to serve the interest of the Metropole. However, with the demise of colonialism since the Second World War and the rise of the independent nation state, we are now masters of our own socio-economic and political destiny, competing in a globalized world in what is described as a level playing field.

Hence, the critical question is whether our education system and curriculum are equipped to meet the challenges in a competitive global environment.

Education should be a means to an end and not an end in itself. There must be a sync between education and economic development. This can be illuminated with the case of Malaysia’s – its success in transforming its economy from an agrarian base to that of a newly industrialized one is no mean feat of design.

In 1957, both Malaysia and Ghana were granted independence, with Ghana being the first sub Saharan country to be granted independence, an historical event proportional in magnitude to that of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison or Obama’s victory, but oblivious to most because we are now living in the age of cable television.

There was not much difference in land size and population. However, Dr Mathibir Mohamad invested heavily in education, information technology and heavy manufacturing – including car production. Ghana, on the other hand, did not invest that much in educating its citizens and remained a producer of primary products and whose mechanics can be seen along the roadside attempting to fix used vehicles instead of manufacturing such.

In this country, the vast majority of our children are tutored in an academic curriculum which bears no reality to global economic trends and this country’s immersion into a global economy. At present there are around 12,000 students in secondary education, with the vast majority not inclined to academic subjects, and moreso the Sciences. Hence, upon leaving school they don’t have the skills set to compete in a small country, with a limited economic base and are thus forced into illegal activities to support themselves, and externally, many compete for low-skilled jobs on cruise lines or the Farm Labour Program.

A possible solution is the creation of technical high schools, expanding the TVOC curriculum from that of the archaic subjects – woodwork, technical drawing and Home Economics to that which genuinely fosters life-long learning and employment skills. In South Africa for instance, students who attend technical high schools pursue a normal school curriculum along with technical subjects in the first three years. However, in the remaining two years of their normal school life they specialize in a given area, which may be designing, mechanical engineering, metal works or civil engineering and the possibility of focusing on surveying, quantity surveying, graphic design.

In Jamaica, St. Elizabeth Technical and other such schools do offer most of the above, including cosmetology, refrigeration, electrical repairs etc.

At home, the private sector is small and the state is the largest employer in this country, but the economy of this country cannot create institutional employment for everyone, hence, the need to create a curriculum which also fosters the notion of self-employment.

In Haiti, 80 percent of the working population create and generate their own employment outside of the formal economy because the formal cannot absorb the full labour force.

A trial and error approach to the adoption and implementation of such programs in this country is undesirable. In small states, with limited resources and competitiveness, the margin for error must be very small and we must be able to get it right from day one. We must not have a situation where students finish their tuition and wait several months after to do their exam. The simple truth is that the world is not going to wait on us to catch up. We have to run to meet the pact.