LAUDERDALE LAKES — The Jamaican high school education system can be equated with some of the best in the world, according to some observers, as evidenced by the many Jamaicans who leave their island home and achieve success around the world.
The Jamaican Diaspora plays some part in that success and, recently some 70,000 graduates of 50 educational institutions in the country formed the Coalition of Jamaica Alumni Associations in South Florida (JAASF) to ensure that those currently attending school continue to receive the same quality education.
“Those of us from the Jamaican Diaspora are acutely aware of the excellent educational foundation we received in Jamaica,” said local attorney Dahlia Walker-Huntington. “As a Jamaican living overseas, it doesn’t take you very long to realize, as you interact with others from all over the world, although we’re from a third-world country, we undoubtedly received a first-class education.”
To illustrate their dedication to their alma maters and homeland, in general, the JAASF, in conjunction with the consulate-general of Jamaica in Miami, recently hosted a community forum that featured Jamaica’s Minister of Education Andrew Holness at the Lauderdale Lakes Cultural and Education Center.
“Education is so important that we cannot ignore the essence of it,” said Lauderdale Lakes’ second Jamaican-born mayor, Barrington Russell. “The global economy, in terms of where we go, is entirely dependent on education. And as I watch the news coming out of Jamaica, I notice that the minister of education has been getting kudos for the direction that he is leading the ministry.”
At the meeting, held on June 24, Holness said the education system now faces problems such as large class sizes, drop-outs, decreasing standards and funds were not available to deal wih them.
“I don’t want to come here today to say I need your help,” Holness said. “I’m grateful for the help you’ve given me but I want to build a new partnership for education in Jamaica, a partnership that’s not built on any political consideration, a partnership that is robust, one that is guided by a shared vision, a common purpose and common goals.”
The minister anticipated a renewed sense of philanthropy that would solve the education problems in Jamaica and he called on investors to build “trust” schools in which the government would pay for the services under a private-public sector partnership
“Where is the new philanthropy that will create new social capitals to carry us forward?” Holness asked.
He referred to 46 traditional high schools in Jamaica, some built hundreds of years ago by colonial powers and churches, that produced graduates in several fields.
“We are packaging clusters of schools and inviting investors to view and upgrade these schools which the government will pay for overtime,” Holness said.
Shortly after Jamaica gained independence from Britain in 1962, the country’s formal education stopped at age 15. As a result, a dual society developed consisting of those who could succeed anywhere and those who struggled to read, write and even speak formal English.
That situation forced the Jamaican government to adopt a policy to expand education. Another policy has allowed public primary school students, not just those from private preparatory schools, an opportunity to attend high school. But an influx of students surfaced and the 46 schools were not enough. The government borrowed $7 million to build 100 additional schools. Yet, the demand is still not met and the education ministry is falling short of its goal of universal literacy.
“We have widened the access; 87 percent of high school students now have access to an education but the problem is that we have 997 primary schools and 200 preparatory schools and we are trying to put them into these 167 high schools,” Holness said. “Let us build some more schools, just as the churches [did], that are centers of excellence so that the students turned out can articulate in any society.”
“Literacy is like a vaccine,” Holness said. “You have to inoculate everyone around with knowledge in order to ameliorate the disease of ignorance and violence. And you can’t charge for it; you have to make it free.”
Without asking for assistance directly, the minister mentioned one of the government’s strategies towards fulfilling the national education developmental goals: the National Education Trust (NET), an endowment group comprising individuals or corporate entities in the diaspora who wanted to contribute but encountered complexities such as heavy custom duties and taxes. Contributors can give their resources to the trust, which will pool them and fairly distribute them throughout the island.
The NET also alleviates some of the cost the government sustains for maintaining schools and assists in its long-term infrastructure development policy.
“We are studying the gift-giving landscape to see how we can make giving flow easier,” Holness said. “I believe that with leadership, with passions and commitment that we’ll be able to focus our energies on getting education right.”
Tracy-Ann Taylor may be reached at Tayltra9@aol.com.
Photo by: ALAN LUBY/FOR SOUTH FLORIDA TIMES