It has been customary for a sizeable chunk of the national budget to be plugged into the education sector. But from all indications, deliberate funding has not yet helped to propel the sector to the place it needs to be.
When the 2017 budget was presented Monday, education was the sector that again claimed the largest piece of the pie. This translated to $43.1 billion or 17.2 percent of the entire budget being set aside to improve education.
Currently improving education means tackling an apparent protracted situation whereby the majority of the assessed pupils and students are barely able to comprehend the core subject areas of Mathematics and English.
This state of affairs was amplified by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who during his presentation of the $250 billion national budget on Monday, revealed that this year, the Mathematics and English Language results at the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate (CSEC) exams and, more particularly, the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA), were very depressing. The results for English and Mathematics, at the Grade Six levels, were distressingly alarming, the Minister highlighted. The results reveal that a mere 14 percent passed Mathematics, and consequently, some 12,000 children are currently not numerate.
As if this is not bad enough, it was revealed that more than half of those who wrote English could not sufficiently comprehend the language to attain a 50 percent score.
“This is a crisis,” the Finance Minister emphasized.
But the coalesced A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Government seems to think it has the right approach to tackle the daunting performance in the core subject areas of Mathematics and English Language.
In fact, Minister Jordan assured that “our Government has wasted no time in tackling this crisis head-on.”
“We have undertaken a series of responses to address the institutional, human resource, and strategic planning deficiencies that have plagued our education system for many years,” he told the nation. The budget presentation before the National Assembly has become an annual televised feature.
According to Minister Jordan, as part of the efforts to improve education results, in the near and medium terms, interventions will include: implementing the $337.4 million Programme for Emergency Education Reform (PEER), which provides an initial and rapid response. This venture will allow for a diagnostic and needs assessments to be administered across the country for school, class, and child and will entail moves to recruit and retain mathematics specialists.
The programme is also geared at training school administrators for improved monitoring, and training teachers in content and methodology, even as efforts are directed to rolling out a parent involvement strategy in every region.
Another measure slated to be implemented is the immediate expansion of the number of class periods assigned to mathematics at both at the primary and secondary levels, beyond the existing meagre four periods. Part of the programme will also entail the commencement and completion of curriculum reform across the entire public education system.
But Minister Jordan during his presentation did not hesitate to amplify the fact that a comprehensive curriculum reform has not taken place since 1999, long before his party assumed power in 2015.
Moreover, government will be looking to accelerate the development of appropriate job descriptions and commensurate remuneration packages, in order to attract specialists and relevant personnel, in conjunction with the Public Service Department and the Public and Teaching Service Commissions. This, he noted, will help in the quest to fill critical human resource gaps across the country by mid-2017.
Added to this, there will be training of all education-related personnel to improve the attitudes, motivation, and approaches to education delivery with specific focus towards innovation in learning. According to Minister Jordan too, moves towards redefining the duties and responsibilities of school administrators to ensure that sufficient time and energies are available for supervision of teacher-pupil performance and mentoring will also be employed.
Improving the sector will also require strengthening the early childhood development system in the country, while efforts will be made to address the differences in learning methodologies for boys and girls.
Part of the plan will also entail the development of two model schools that are of the highest, modern, infrastructural standard and can facilitate the incorporation and testing of new and innovative technology, creative delivery and learning techniques and environments, and contemporary learning materials and curricula. These schools will remain centres of education innovation permanently, the Minister revealed.
According to Jordan, “the quality of the education afforded to our citizens will determine how we as a nation advance and compete within the global economy.” As such, he informed that “integral to the achievement of a diversified, green, economy would be a cadre of educated, skilled, creative, dedicated individuals who are critical thinkers, and are inspired to achieve for themselves, their country, and the world.”
He noted that Government has recognised that the problems which beset the sector must be tackled at the core, beginning from early childhood through to university and beyond. However, the Minister underscored that a successful, well-rounded child is a product of his or her home environment, good parenting, and dedicated and competent teachers within a supportive and healthy community.
And Minister Jordan stressed Monday, “we cannot afford to fail our children, who are our leaders of tomorrow, for to do so would be tantamount to undermining every sector of our economy and, ultimately, condemning our nation and future generations to a life of pessimism and poverty.”
“We, therefore, have to ensure that we properly diagnose the problems and apply solutions that seek to structurally change the mode, scale, and regional appropriateness of interventions. Our Government will not fail our children,” the Minister confidently insisted.
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