Education Issues 2011 – Jamaica Year in Review 2011

Written by Cordella Lewis

Dr. Christopher Tufton, Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, supports providing subsidies for vocational and tertiary education to areas with the greatest need. Government-subsidized education and training programs should be focused on the challenges facing the nation as a whole, rather than being perceived as a means for taxpayers to fund all areas of study, said Tufton.

Minister of Education Andrew Holness is urging Jamaica to include the subject of civics to the school curriculum again. According to Holness, teaching civics helps children develop into active citizens with good character. Teaching civics will improve students’ behavior, he said, and teaching about the rights and duties of citizenship will allow schools to make a significant contribution to improving the country as a whole.

The Caribbean Media Exchange (CMEx) implemented a program designed to help Jamaican children living in Port Antonio. The nonprofit organization, which is based in the United States, presented educational supplies to the Good Hope School in Portland parish. CMEx plans to make both financial and in-kind contributions to other communities that demonstrate a need in the region.

Jamaica’s Ministry of Education created and imposed a dress code that teachers must follow while they are in class. The dress code is meant to highlight the importance for all school staff and teachers to be well-groomed and dressed appropriately for their jobs.  Failure to follow the dress code could result in disciplinary actions for teachers.

Corporeal punishment will no longer be imposed in Jamaican public schools. Officials took action on the matter after discovering that a student in a fifth grade class lost most of the vision in one eye after being struck by a teacher. However, Minister of Education Andrew Holness said that “moderate and reasonable” punishment would remain legal at all educational institutions other than those handling early childhood populations.

Several schools were singled out by Andrew Holness in his position as Minister of Education for their poor performance, teaching standards, or morale. Marcus Garvey Technical High School in St. Ann’s Bay was one of those targeted for its infighting at all organizational levels. Math teachers are six high schools were singled out for their approach to the subject, which was found to be “didactic and expository” and targeted for improvement. Holness also turned his attention to six primary schools that continued to perform poorly on the Grade Fourth Literacy Test, noting that some of them had shown mastery on the 2011 exam of zero percent. These results will no longer be tolerated, according to Holness.

School principals were advised to be better leaders in order to improve student performance in schools across the country. Improved leadership by principals could lead to better quality of students at all levels, according to Elaine Foster-Allen, principal of Shortwood Teachers’ College, and Dr. Tamika Benjamin, lecturer at Mico University College. School performance and leadership from principals have been directly correlated, they said.

HEART College of Innovation and Technology was granted university status by the government of Jamaica. This is only one of several educational institutions slated to receive the upgrade in status over the next ten years, said Andrew Holness, Minister of Education. The school was formerly known as the Caribbean Institute of Technology (CIT). It will now represent one part of the government’s investment in technical education, which is a common practice in countries like Germany, Austria, and Japan.

Early education efforts in Jamaica received a boost from business leaders as they announced their intent to support the government’s focus in this area. Glen Christian, executive chairman of Cari-Med Ltd., and other business representatives were in agreement that Jamaica requires greater investment in education, which represents a strategic development tool. Business leaders are supporting the efforts of Andrew Holness, Minister of Education, as he moves the focus of aid to early childhood programs in rural areas where many schools are currently providing inadequate education.

The United States Embassy in Kingston provided $10 million to nine organizations and programs designed to fund a wide range of educational and training initiatives. The funds were given to Children First, Clarendon Association for Street People Benevolent Society, Operation Friendship, Jamaica Basketball Association, Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, Jamaica Fulbright Association, Jamaica Theological Seminary, University of the West Indies, and Northern Caribbean University.

Discussions about literacy in Jamaica frequently turn to the consideration of Patois and whether or not it is a “real” language. The children’s television program “Rastamouse” uses a mouse and his band of reggae musicians to teach viewers how to speak the Jamaican dialect they hear on the show. The Bible Society of the West Indies stated that Jamaican Patois is indeed a valid language and translating the Bible into Patois is a worthwhile effort. On the other hand, some like Dr. Franklin Johnston, believes such a translation to be a waste of time.

In other literacy efforts, the Jamaica Partnership for Education  and the Jamaica National Building Society partnered to provide tools to the schools for improving the rate of literacy. The Society began raising funds to eliminate illiteracy from Jamaica’s schools in 2009, and since then, it has provided computer-based tools and interactive software to eight primary schools in rural areas to further its efforts. Jamaica’s government called upon the private sector for help in promoting literacy among young people on the island as well. The Read Across Jamaica Day is an initiative sponsored by the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, which the government hopes will help to create a literacy rate among Jamaicans of 100 percent by 2016. And a literacy monitoring program received the support of Minister of Education Andrew Holness, who called it a program of major importance for the island. The development of a national plan to achieve universal literacy in Jamaica represents the first time a Caribbean nation has attempted to make an accurate measurement of its literacy levels.

Preserving History
Efforts to preserve the history of Jamaica experienced ups and downs in 2011. Governor-General Sir Patrick Allen urged Jamaicans to keep the country’s national heritage relevant by educating young people about the island’s culture. If children are taught to value their heritage, the future of the culture is ensured. Allen also recognized the contributions of the Jamaica Information Service in preserving island history and culture. The head of the Institute of Jamaica, Vivian Crawford, has worked to preserve and promote the nation’s history for more than 11 years. As a leading authority on the island’s arts and culture, Crawford attributed his appreciation of history and culture to his childhood in Moore Town, Portland, and the many stories he heard there. He has been instrumental in promoting Jamaica culture and history, particularly through a fund-raising effort to commemorate the place where the Proclamation of Emancipation of Slaves was read in 1838. A memorial plaque was installed to mark that location through Crawford’s efforts.

The fate of the historic building that housed the first offices of the first university in Jamaica is still up in the air after two years of negotiations between a government agency and a nonprofit. The building on Lady Musgrave Road was home to the University of the West Indies in 1947 and also served as the base of Jamaica’s first parliamentary ombudsman and as part of the police force. The building has recently fallen victim to scrap metal thieves and looters.

Phillip Martin, an American engineer, historian, and horologist, indicated his interest in preserving the historic “heritage clocks” in Jamaica. He believes the nation needs to take immediate action to preserve about 30 clocks on the island, some of which are 150 years old. They represent important elements in the history of Jamaica, Martin said, and as such, should be saved.

About the author

Cordella Lewis