Sun | Nov 19, 2017

Ronald Mason | Toxic blend of politics and economics

Published:Sunday | August 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM

If you think education is expensive, try the alternative. For years, the Jamaican high schools have been stratified according to their results by the population at large.

All of these schools now have in common the mandatory interference from politicians posing as ministers of education. It has been many decades since someone like the late Edwin Allen occupied the post of minister of education, and though he was an elected politician, that was not the public's primary perception of him. The educational progress and the availability of opportunities for excellence came with him.

The immediate past minister of education knew what was required for better outcomes, but bowed at the altar of expediency in not enforcing the remedial actions, so the nation's educational system drifts along.

Listen to the song Little Black Boy out of Trinidad. Today, we have a major crime problem because the little black boy grew up and has become a significant contributor. Years of neglect and playing politics with the educational system are bearing bitter fruits.

The country has an education tax that is not being singularly applied to the school system. In the age of the 21st century, we still have 50 per cent of those students who are allowed to sit CXC exams leaving school after five years without any passes at all. Boys are terribly marginalised and drop out at ninth grade in significant numbers.

We have teachers in the system who were never proficient students of the subject matter they were employed to teach and expected to deliver at a high level. We pay high-school teachers to go on long sabbaticals in addition to a multitude of holidays. We cannot transfer teachers and there is the stupidity that says you are employed bys the school board, but paid and directed by the Ministry of Education.

 

SHAMEFUL ACTION BY RUEL REID

 

When you have circumstances where schools are not allowed to solicit and demand payment for the very valuable commodity of education, because politicians see free education as providing electoral advantage in a massive vote-buying exercise, we truly have created a monster.

Responding to the schools that are grossly underfunded with emotive, derogatory comments is a tragedy, especially coming from an unelected politician. I take exception, as I have very close association with persons who attended the alleged offending schools. My contacts have gone on to lead successful professional successful lives.

The response states: "If the schools are short of funds, the ministry has resources, yet the same ministry owes money to the schools. These are the same politicians who will charge the Government and the taxpayers of this country millions of dollars for cell phone usage and the purchase of new SUVs. It is instructive to note that the prime minister himself is apparently never going to condescend to tell the nation what his cell phone bill is. He has these sources of funding that facilitate cell phone usage and multimillion-dollar real estate way in excess of his published salary.

The current minister of education, when he was on campus, benefited from the extra trust fund resources and alumni contributions, along with auxiliary fees.

Good education is not cheap. Good education is a necessity for Jamaica, and these objectives must be more prominent than the cheap politicking that keeps some Jamaicans poor and illiterate. A good teacher is a valuable asset, and sufficient classroom space to keep class sizes manageable is among the necessaries, not luxuries, as Ruel Reid would have us think.

The most highly educated countries are not poor and crime-ridden. It is very clear, Mr Reid, that the Government does not have the wherewithal to fund free education. Allow the schools to charge a fair, appropriate price for their product. If all the schools in Jamaica were displaying the success of St Andrew High School and Immaculate Conception High School, what a country this would be! But the minister, though he has apologised, refers to them in terms of corruption and extortion. How very, very sad, Ruel Reid.

The only thing this policy, if allowed to continue, is likely to do is to further dumb down the educational product. The resulting mediocrity will produce voters who will be unable to exercise independent thought.

This is the continuous race to the bottom, just for political expediency. Politicians continue to hug up the poor and bleat about championing their cause while they keep them at the bottom. They will resort to criminality, hustling, rampant indiscipline, and rob the country of GDP growth. Education is not free. Education is not cheap.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.