If the state of the Jamaican educational system were to be summed up in one sentence, it would be that it is in utter distress. The sector faces serious challenges in its efforts to provide quality learning opportunities for children up to age eighteen. At present, there exists low literacy levels, university matriculation levels, exam passes, etc.
Notwithstanding, Jamaicans realise the importance of education. Not only do they recognise that it is (as established in numerous international conventions) one of the most basic Human Rights, but extremely pivotal to societal and economic development as well. To this end, there have been numerous attempts both by the government, civil society groups and private interest to revive the educational system in the country. To this end, there have been numerous positive results.
Financing: Education is rather expensive in the country: One important development in the educational system was the announcement of the Bruce Golding led government in 2007 that they would introduce ‘free education’. As with everything, however, there were conditions. The fees to be removed were only for high school students. Many schools reported in budgetary deficits due to late payments made by the government in the harsh economic climate. As such, many schools resorted to drastically increasing ‘development fees’ to balance the books. To this end, secondary education is essentially not free in Jamaica.
Brain Drain: The problem of ‘brain drain’ is of growing concern in Jamaica, as with many developing countries. Those who have access to and receive a proper education often leave the country for places such as the US, Canada and the UK. This lessens the prospect of national growth and development.
Infrastructure: One of the most important factors influencing the education process is the environment in which learning takes place. In order to successfully develop the Jamaican citizenry into an educated force, this aspect of learning must be addressed. Having teachers attempt to teach multi-grade levels in one classroom with a total of 60-70 or more students, for example, indicates the poor learning condition. This is further compounded by the lack of the use of ICTs in schools. In this, the 21st century, technology must play an important part in the educational system.
Access To Education: According to UNICEF (retrieved from: http://www.unicef.org/jamaica/promoting_quality_education.html) ‘Over 98 per cent of children 6-14 years old are enrolled in school (99.9 per cent for boys and 95.7 per cent for girls), but that rate plummets to 89 per cent among children 15-16 years old, and to 47.8 per cent among those 17-18 years old. The percentage of children who reach grade 5 has been declining, from approximately 96.5 per cent in 1999/2000 to 87.6 per cent in 2001/2002, with retention rates higher for girls than for boys (91.4 per cent and 84.3 per cent, respectively).'
Development Projects: For long, many children, especially teenagers have been denied access to education due to financing and other problems. Andre Hollness, former minister of education and prime minister of Jamaica announced in 2007 the slogan ‘every child can learn, every child must learn’. With this, he proposed a number of intervention programs to improve the education system in Jamaica. This program has led to a substantial increase in the enrolment level of students across the board. The sustainability of this effort is left to be seen.
Other examples include Improving Access to and Quality of Services, which will result in: approximately 132,000 pre-school children being ready for primary education among other things. Notable also is the Quality Education and Early Childhood Development Programme which aims to promote a child-friendly environment via the provision of quality education to meet the needs of children.
The educational system in Jamaica is indeed in a dire state. Notwithstanding, there has been a number of positive efforts to improve the sector form a systematic approach with a number of intervention programs. The effectiveness of these has proven laudable. It remains to see what new measures the new PNP administration will introduce to further improve the quality of the system.