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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Excellent Speech Minister Thwaites


I had the recent delight of sitting in audience to the Minister of Education, the Honourable Ronald Thwaites.  He addressed an audience of Northern Caribbean University (NCU) workers during their annual Colloquium talks.  I was enthralled by his fluent and fanciful articulation of what he sees as the role of an effective education system in making in creating the Jamaica we wish to have by 2030.   
In his presentation he took the opportunity to revisit the issue of the woefully short supply of qualified Mathematics teachers in the island.  As he did this he summoned NCU to the aid of the nation in alleviating the perennial educational woes.  He also alluded to the likelihood of universities accessing government funding if relevant researches are done to bring lasting solutions to the nation’s varied educational challenges.
He was most passionate as he lamented the woes assailing early childhood education in Jamaica.  He bemoaned the mockery it is to an educational process that has to spend so much on remedial work at the higher strata of the educational pyramid.  “Do it right the first time,” he emphasized.
In responding to suggestion of making it more attractive to work at the lower levels of the educational system, the minister was forthright to underscore that an increase in the wage bill was not a feasible option at this point.
It isn’t only an established construction phenomenon that the firmer the foundation the greater its ability to accommodate a taller building.  The same is true of an individual’s educational climb.  This is not rocket science.  The firmer the foundation at the early childhood stage of our educational system the greater the likelihood that these students will succeed at the higher levels….
As I reflect on the way forward I’m reminded of the glory days of West Indies Cricket; the days when Clive Lloyd was captain of the West Indies Cricket team.  There was so much depth in the players of the team that one commentator was confident that even a donkey could lead the West Indies and they would still win matches.  Although taken to task for his comments, which I believe were misunderstood as an insult to Clive Lloyd, I believe he echoed an important principle that might be most instructive in pointing the way forward for education in Jamaica.  The question is, how do we create that depth in our children that will almost certainly create guaranteed success at the higher levels of their educational pursuits?
Here I will join those who believe that at least some of the big bucks should be redirected from the tertiary levels to the primary and early childhood levels.  There are two excellent reasons why this would be a good move: 1. Better facilities; 2. we’d also be able to attract the crème de la crème of our qualified teachers within the nation to these lower level institutions.  After all, if they don’t follow the “carrot” it would be quite revealing that those who teach the teachers to teach children have no real passion to teach the nation’s children.
Clearly, there are challenges to accessing tertiary level education, and a redirecting of funds will definitely make it even more challenging for those who are accustomed to receiving government assistance.  But the fact is, unlike children, graduates from the secondary system are at least able to work and help themselves.  The formula then is this: start out with a strong primary and early childhood foundation.  Augment that with a secondary system that equips graduates with an employable skill for which they will receive HEART certification.  And as the Minister strongly intimated, it has been to our hurt and embarrassment that we have traditional held the view that it is the student who showed little prospect in the academics who must be otherwise directed to the vocational areas.  This will ensure that the secondary graduate is prepared to independently pursue higher education, whether here or abroad.  The of working and studying is not a new concept; it is one that has been working for decades at NCU through its Work and Study Programme.
I got a sense from the trajectory of the astute Minister’s presentation; he would be inclined to agree with my inferences from his speech.  I did note however that repeatedly in his largely adlib presentation, reference was made to how things have always been done.   I wonder if I correctly sensed his struggle to choose between the obvious way forward and listening to the “wisdom” of the way we have always "done things."  I put it to the Minister that not only would history be kind to him, but it would also be safe political risk to take to indeed put greater emphasis on the lower echelons of our educational system.  I pray that what I did indeed hear would constitute what might be termed, “the writing on the wall,” for education in Jamaica. 

Education Minister, Rev. the Hon. Ronald Thwaites (right), is greeted on arrival at Northern Caribbean University’s (NCU) central campus in Mandeville, Manchester on August 20, for the institution’s colloquium, by President, Dr. Trevor Gardner (left). Rev. Thwaites was guest speaker at the two-day event, which was held under the theme: ‘The Relevance of Seventh-Day Adventist Higher Education in Today’s Global Environment’. Looking on are: NCU’S Vice Presidents, Dr. Beverly Cameron, Student Services (second left) and Yvonne Bignall, University Relations (partly hidden).
On a lighter note. Though sworn to diametrically dissimilar doctrinal dogmas in some critical areas of our respective faiths, I more than once mused at the thought of joining the Minister’s congregation next Sunday.  But more seriously though, I would hardly be perturbed, but rather delighted, if in speech only our educational system were to produce several more Ronald Thwaites.  Excellent speech Honourable Minister.