Tue | Apr 23, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | Not in education

Published:Monday | March 25, 2019 | 12:07 AM
Ministry of Education headquarters at National Hedroes Circle in Kingston.

The training and teaching of our children are too precious to be deflected by scandal. Adults underestimate how impressionable young people are. So ask yourself, what lessons the more than 700,000 Jamaican youth are ingesting from the avalanche of suspicions surrounding the dismissal of a minister of education?

Who will explain to them what is truth? Who are they to look up to now? What are they to remember after the speeding motorcade of ministerial vehicles, the sirens, the brace of security guards (who are you afraid of anyway?) and the fawning of the ministry officials and incompetent advisers are all stripped away?

And even the teachers ... in a profession heavily influenced in tone and trust by a minister, what are they to think? What are they to tell the pickney when his big portrait on every school wall is suddenly and disgracefully removed?

A little counsel: Flashiness and show; stush, self-congratulatory bashes at Jewels, on the yacht and elsewhere are not what good governance and effective ­servanthood make. Better to deal with the substance than the protocol. Just look at how ‘braff’ and lavish turn into the smelly stuff. Who paid for all the partisan extravagance anyway?

The whole sector is now ­demoralised by the circumstances surrounding the departure of its leader and the discrediting ­suspicions around several of the education-related ­agencies. I grieve particularly for the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), up to now a beacon of the kind of disciplined education and training most needed by poorly socialised students and most suitable for our global workforce needs.

The CMU is too important to have any cloud of nepotism or corruption hanging over its leadership. Full and complete answers to all the questions regarding its connection with the Ruel Reid Foundation, any hiring of relatives, concubines and party hacks; full details of all contracts involving the ministry, are needed this week. They are already late!

OBVIOUS CORRUPTION

Next, please do not ignore the unease of individuals and organisations in the diaspora concerned about how monies donated through the National Education Trust are spent. Who decides which schools are favoured? Why could vastly more money be found to advance schools in NW St Ann but not for every other constituency whose schools are equally needy? Check SE Clarendon as one example. The evidence is available, as is the obvious corruption of priorities.

Then, new revelations constrain a return to the question of why the cash-rich HEART Trust was removed from the Ministry of Education, but with almost a billion available for the Career Advancement Programme, trickled through to a myriad of institutions, many with little instructional capacity but with impeccable party connections.

What about the self-respect of each of the boards of these ­agencies? Should they remain?

Inevitably, the mess at the Ministry of Education will slow down the vital process of educational transformation. The Government had already decided that major advances in education are not its priority for the next four years. Just look at the Budget and the forward projections through to 2022.

Who can now say when the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill will be brought into law? And who on the government bench, other than former Minister Holness, can understand and then engineer this critical change of teacher accountability? Who is the strong, inspirational leader who will redress the situation Richard Azan, fruitlessly, put to Ruel Reid and solutionless bureaucrats at the Standing Finance Committee two weeks ago?

One depopulated school in Azan’s constituency (and there are scores more like this elsewhere) has less than a hundred students and nine teachers, who are tenured there and cannot be moved. But there is a nearby school bursting with over a thousand students and lacking as many teachers as the other has oversupply. Nothing is being done to correct this.

Such anomalies hurt innocent students. And this is but one instance, among many, immediately requiring trusted leadership; bold, concensus-building skills and strong powers of persuasion in an indifferent Cabinet and an ­uninformed public.

At a more than two-hour, ­thorough interrogation of the ministry’s budget at the Standing Finance Committee, Michael Stewart and I deliberately never took on issues about the minister’s personal or political activity despite the many questions already in the public sphere. But how could it have been that other members of the governing party knew nothing and had no questions about the ­education spend? And have we missed the trenchant comments about education and training ­priorities from the teaching ­profession, whose leadership, of late, had become so indistinguishably aligned to the then minister?

All this confusion and ­corruption should never happen. Not in education!

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.