The Government is looking to double enrollment of students in tertiary institutions over the next 13 years.
Education, Youth and Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Ruel Reid, tells JIS NEWS that increasing the number of students benefiting from tertiary training is critical for the country to achieve development goals over the next 55 years and beyond.
He informs that the gross enrollment rate of the tertiary age cohort (18 – 24 years) is approximately 28.5 per cent, while only about 15 per cent of the workforce has tertiary training and certification.
He says the Government recognises that sustainable development goes hand in hand with higher education and, as such, will be providing increased opportunities for students to access tertiary studies at institutions across the island. This includes providing greater access to funding.
“We are doing all that we can to find a pathway solution to ensure that all our students, who are aspiring for the highest achievement in education, that they are so supported,” Minister Reid says.
Increased tertiary access is in keeping with the Education Sector Plan, which is part of the Vision 2030: National Development Plan.
It envisions an education and training system for Jamaica that produces well-rounded and qualified people, who are able to function as creative and productive individuals in all spheres of the society, and be competitive in a global context.
Under the plan, the average beneficiary of the education and training system is expected to: complete secondary level education; acquire a vocational skill; be proficient in English language, a foreign language, mathematics, a science subject, and Information Communication Technology (ICT); participate in sports and the arts; be aware and proud of the local culture; and possess excellent interpersonal skills and workplace attitudes.
A major focus of the sector is to build capacities at crucial levels to ensure that training and certification meet industry needs locally and for the international market.
Minister Reid says the Career Advancement Programme (CAP) is a bold initiative to ensure that all students leaving secondary education have certification equivalent to an associate degree that they can build on at tertiary institutions.
The merger of the HEART Trust/NTA, Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), and the National Youth Service (NYS) will ensure that more students can access training and certification through a centralised system.
“It is a human resource training institution and will be able to continue to improve and upgrade the skills of our workforce to ensure that they are cutting-edge to serve the Jamaican market as well as internationally,” Minister Reid says.
Looking at achievements in the sector over the last 55 years, Minister Reid says Jamaica has built a quality system that is providing full access from early childhood to secondary schools, and options for tertiary training.
At the dawn of Independence in 1962, education, which was largely regarded a privilege for a select few, become the right of every Jamaican.
Over the years, there have been major policy initiatives and significant investments to improve infrastructure, access and outcomes, and provide the highest quality training for all citizens.
Notable achievements include the development of standards to guide the delivery of early childhood education through the establishment of the Early Childhood Commission (ECC) and standardised textbooks and workbooks; universal primary education; tuition-free policy and implementation of a highly subsidised and accessible book rental scheme at the secondary level; and a subsidised lunch programme.
In addition, there has been significant building and expansion of schools; development of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to replace the Common Entrance Examination (CEE); development and the implementation of various educational policies.
Minister Reid notes that prior to Independence, the majority of persons living in Jamaica did not have access to elementary education.
He says that since then significant strides have been made by introducing early childhood education “which is now accessible to most children and the Government intends to…ensure that all children have universal access and participation at approved institutions.”
Senator Reid notes that while at the point of Independence there was “low” access at secondary institutions, additional schools have been built enabling universal access to a full five years of secondary schooling.
At least three indigenous degree-granting institutions have been established since Independence – the University of Technology (UTech), Northern Caribbean University (NCU), and Mico University College – as well as several other multi-disciplinary colleges.
With all the advances made in education, Minister Reid says he is “inspired by where we are as a people.”
“Looking back at the last 55 years we have been through our successes, we have been through our challenges. Our vision is to give them (children) free access up to age 18 and ensure they can gain degrees by age 30, and move seamlessly into the world of work,” he notes.
The Minister sees education as “very critical” in fighting crime, improving discipline in the society, and ensuring better governance.
By Garfield Angus