(Jamaica Gleaner) More than half of the students who left secondary school last year in Jamaica have no subjects and no skills. This is a mammoth problem facing Education Minister Andrew Holness who says it is “something the entire nation should be worried about.“ “The nation has heard about it for years, but they did not know the extent of the problem … Part of our non-growth is as a result of us not utilising our human resources to the fullest,” Holness tells The Sunday Gleaner. Ministry of Education data show that last year, there were 51,676 Jamaican youth of Grade 11 age, half of whom were not certified for any further education or job.
The data suggest that only 40,690 of the Grade 11 cohort were enrolled in schools. No one knows for sure what was happening with the other 11,000 youngsters who should have been in school.
But enrolment is just one section of this Pandora’s Box. The ministry data show that only 31,604 of those who enrolled last year sat the external examinations.
Of those who sat exams, 15,226 or 29 per cent of the students passed fewer than two subjects, including 6,004 who did not secure a pass in a single subject.
Holness’ concerns are shared by Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions (DPP).
“In any society, well-thinking people who love their country would be greatly concerned if you have any substantial body of the citizens coming out of the system and not in a position where they can maximise their full human potential,” Llewellyn says.
The DPP adds: “These people may, without positive intervention, proceed on a slippery slope, which may lead them into a situation where they are not able to contribute to nation building in a positive way.”
Data published by the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) in the 2008 Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica point to prisons being overrun by poorly educated persons.
A combined 63.9 per cent of inmates incarcerated in 2008 was poor and of low educational backgrounds. Another 23.1 per cent of the new prison population was identified as fairly educated, while 60.8 was classified as unskilled.
According to Llewellyn, “Based on the statistics, poor education or illiteracy, without some intervention by a positive values-and-attitudes-creating force, renders persons vulnerable to being manipulated by dysfunctional forces, which may lead to them pursuing a path of criminality.”
The ESSJ has presented data which points to 730 out of 1,334 new inmates incarcerated in 2008 falling in the age range 17 to 30.
The Ministry of Education’s data, as well as the figures in the economic and social survey, have moved Junior Rose, chairman of the Jamaica Association of Young Professionals, to call for a national study on the factors affecting performance and enrolment in schools.
“I believe that a lot of the dropouts and underachievers are usually unattached, hence they find themselves becoming a challenge that we have to deal with,” Rose said.
The past guild president of the University of the West Indies said: “The majority of dropouts and underachievers are good persons, and we need to find out the reason for the challenges so that we may be able to address them.”
Rose has proposed an expansion of the technical programme in high schools.
He said the education ministry should spend time identifying the cohort that needs technical training and tailor its message to the society that technical training is not bad.
Spread the message
“We need to reposition tech-nical and vocational education and spread the message that those who are doing these disciplines, it is not because they are dunce, but rather it is a choice they make because of the skill sets which they have,” Rose argued.
Meanwhile, Holness has said that the ministry would be pursuing more application-based education, which should involve a more practical form of education, as well as apprenticeship-based programmes.
“We have to change the way in which we teach to match the way in which children learn. That is the strategy we are trying to put into the education system so that teachers get more tools in their tool kit,” Holness said.
12% (or 6,004) of Grade 11 students passed NO exams
29% of students who sat exams last year passed two or fewer subjects
63.9% of inmates incarcerated in 2008 were of poor or illiterate educational backgrounds
60.8% of new prison population is classified as unskilled persons
730 of 1,334 new inmates incarcerated in 2008 were between the ages of 17 and 30.
In 1996, nearly 1,000 out of 2,100 new inmates in correctional centres were either poorly educated or illiterate.