Mon | Feb 6, 2023

Editorial | Missing element in education reform plan

Published:Sunday | December 4, 2022 | 12:10 AM
Dr Adrian Stokes (left), chairman, Education Transformation Oversight Committee, with Fayval Williams, minister of education & youth, at the Education Transformation Oversight Committee press conference at Jamaica House in July.
Dr Adrian Stokes (left), chairman, Education Transformation Oversight Committee, with Fayval Williams, minister of education & youth, at the Education Transformation Oversight Committee press conference at Jamaica House in July.

When in June, Adrian Stokes announced October 30 for the first town hall-style meeting of his committee that has oversight of the project to transform Jamaica’s education system, this newspaper lamented that the date was “a distance too far”.

It is not clear if that session was ever held. If it was, it was probably one of those events that didn’t excite deep debate or stir emotions. It might have passed people by.

If that is indeed the case our sentiment remains the same. Such engagements are important, though maybe not solely for the purpose that Dr Stokes and the members of the Education Transformation Oversight Committee (ETOC) perhaps perceive them. Which appears to be, to provide the public with periodic updates on ETOC’s work, progress on the implementation of the recommendations of the Orlando Patterson Commission for overhauling the education system, and seeking the buy-in of Jamaicans for what is being done.

All of which is good and necessary. But from our vantage point, it seems a bit, like the saying goes, placing the cart before the horse. And at this point, it seems that the horse is falling farther behind.

Last week, Dr Stokes, in an update on the work of his committee, listed the “finalisation of a communication plan and the execution of that communication plan” as being among the initiatives lagging in preparation for implementation of the Patterson Commission’s report.

Other critical delayed undertakings include what Dr Stokes referred to as the “build-out of the specialised unit” within the education ministry which will have responsibility for the project. The recruitment of a chief transformation officer who will have day-to-day responsibility for the execution of agreed initiatives is behind. So, too, is the hiring of a project lead.

MAYBE A WHILE

These initiatives, Dr Stokes said, need “greater urgency”. So, on the face of it, given the status of the communication plan, it may be a while yet before ETOC gets into its stride in presenting to Jamaicans the nuts and bolts of what it is about, the timelines of specific transformation initiatives and how the committee is working to drive the process.

This concerns us. The process must be accelerated. Except that none of this ought to be the cause of another glaring failing in how this project has proceeded. Largely, Jamaicans know little of what is in the Patterson report – except for those elements that have been highlighted by the media – and, therefore, to what they are being asked to give their endorsement.

Put another way, in the year-and-half since Professor Patterson presented his report, there has been, but for a handful of ad hoc events, very little serious, organised and robust public engagement of Jamaicans about its findings, despite its several recommendations for the reorganisation of the education system, including which sectors should have priority access to available resources.

Indeed, among the fundamental political issues raised in the report is the commission’s challenge to the Government’s no-cost sharing policy in secondary schools. The commission recommended a system of means testing for parents who didn’t have to pay and that funds collected from those who pay should be allocated to schools where the need is greatest, rather than to the schools attended by the students who contributed.

That there hasn’t been this level of discussion and debate around the report and its recommendations isn’t entirely, or perhaps not at all, the fault of Dr Stokes’ ETOC, which is conceived as a technocratic body to police the implementation of what will be structured work plans. Or as the ETOC chair explained, the commission’s recommendations will be put into “initiatives that are time bound, measurable and specific” which will give the committee “an objective basis to monitor the ministry’s progress on implementation”.

RALLYING OF JAMAICANS

What ETOC will do, notwithstanding, we had hoped for a political engagement of another kind – a rallying of Jamaicans in a crusade against the deep crisis in education outcomes. This demands leadership from the highest level, including the effort’s full, and obvious, ownership by no one less than the Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Indeed, Mr Holness has already made it clear that his government is serious about implementing Professor Patterson’s recommendations.

“... We are going to move with great instrumentality to have our education system transformed,” he said in September.

Our template is for a campaign similar to The Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) of the 1970s when thousands of Jamaicans were mobilised to teach people to read and write.

In this case, though, Mr Holness should co-opt the leader of the Opposition to create a joint enterprise to which all Jamaicans are committed. That shouldn’t pose a problem. The Opposition’s shadow education minister is already a member of ETOC.

Despite the time that has already passed, it’s still not too late to get the necessary public debate of, and mobilisation around, to get the Patterson report really under way.