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I am very pleased to have the opportunity to address this 2005 Conference of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, for reasons which may be obvious to as discerning a body as the JTA is.
Like my predecessor, Michael Manley, I will not demit the office of Prime Minister, without delivering a final charge to our Teachers, which more than any other professional Group, can determine the shape and fortune of Jamaica in the immediate future and for the generations yet to come. But the most compelling reason from my perspective is that I lead a movement and a Party which has always sought to make education and training a critical component of national development and specifically to engage teachers in particular in the processes of community enhancement and nation building. That issue is one to which I will return.
Suffice it to say at this point that I am cognizant of the difference between the spirit of voluntarism which is exhibited by members of this profession in the exercise of their role as private citizens and the requirements which the State must honour in relation to the proper recompense of its professionals for the work which they are called upon to do.
Your President-Elect is clearly conscious of the distinction, and in due course the issue will be addressed through the proper channels. I would certainly hope and expect that the eventual outcomes are mutually acceptable. As an Administration, we are mindful of the demands which teachers make for improvements in their salaries and working conditions. We are also mindful of a range of measures which have been implemented during the life of the Administration to address them – some directly, some by reclassification, some by specific national policies and arrangements as with the National Housing Trust, and of course some related to institutional changes, affecting workloads and the learning environment.
Very importantly, we have identified opportunities for further training of our Principals as managers and our teachers. These will be increased under the Transformation Agenda and in keeping with one of the critical elements in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and Public Sector workers. Would we want to do more, specifically for teachers? Definitely but we have to be aware of the realities of our resource availabilities and the competing demands even within the education sector. Currently nearly 95% of the allocation to the Ministry of Education goes to wages and salaries. This leaves a miniscule amount for providing the required teaching and learning supports. And you, better than everyone else, know that without those supports, we will not achieve optimal results.
Today therefore I locate my central message to you in the context of the principal focus and major themes of the Transformation Agenda as developed by the Task Force on Educational Reform.
I need hardly remind you how this programme has come into being. It came in response to felt national needs. It has been shaped by a bi-partisan developmental approach. It was adopted and endorsed by the Parliament of Jamaica and supported by a wide cross-section of Jamaicans from all walks of life. Its development at this time is not an attempt to claim that educational reform is now just about to begin. What I do declare and declare emphatically is that we are embarking upon the most necessary, fundamental and revolutionary phase of the development of our education and training system certainly in post-Independent Jamaica.
It is a reform process, indeed a transformation process, which must take us from where we are to where we not only want – but need to be if we are to fulfill the vision of this and future generations.
I wonder, Mr. Chairman, how many of us gathered here this morning are familiar with the vision statement I am about to share with you. It is a vision statement which appears in the opening pages of the Task Force Report. It came from broad based discussions across Jamaica out of the Jamaica Social Policy Evaluation Project known as JASPEV, and it has been widely disseminated. But I share it with you this morning, because I think it goes to the heart of what this place called Jamaica must be about and because without you, it will remain just a statement of words and devoid of the substance to make it reality.
The vision for Jamaica in 2015, the target year for the Millennium Development Goals, and our fifty-third year as an independent nation is as follows:A prosperous and dynamic Jamaica which upholds the fulfillment of human rights, dignity for all persons, and builds continual social progress based on shared values and principles of partnerships. Minds are transformed and extraordinary results are produced in this the most caring and secure country in the Americas, where individuals fulfill their potential, are in control of their destiny, take responsibility for their lives and work always for the larger good.
If I were a preacher, I could preach a full-length sermon on that text, but I draw your attention to just a few of the most important elements of that vision statement:
1) Minds are transformed2) Results are produced3) Individuals take responsibility4) Work always for the larger good
Mr. Chairman, the Task Force Report goes on to say that the key outcome goal for education is “an education which facilitates lifelong learning and acquisition of social and life skills for all”. There certainly is an expectation that an educated population will mean a more civil population, highly productive, capable of defining and solving problems.
At the school level, we are reminded that the following ingredients are absolutely necessary if these goals are to be realized and the national vision transformed into reality:
A strong and effective BoardA responsive principal displaying strong leadershipResponsibility and management of the teachingfunction by principals, vice-principals and heads of departmentsAn articulated, shared vision of success around which all stakeholders align themselves;A strategic plan and monitoring to achieve the visionAdequate funding to achieve their vision.
I am sure that this gathering of professionals would readily agree on the ingredients.
There are some who might wish to focus all their attention on the last mentioned item, namely the adequacy of funding.
Despite opposition from certain quarters, we have embarked on a programme to secure dedicated funding to support the capital development necessary for the achievement of our educational goals. I am determined to provide funding for important targets – adequate space, appropriate teaching and learning environment, the use of relevant technology to increase knowledge and enhance skills and understanding.
The National Housing Trust Act was amended to permit a one-off grant – not a loan – of $5b over the next twelve months to assist in the necessary capital development. I express thanks on your behalf – and I have been encouraged by individuals from among you -I express thanks to the Housing Trust Board and administration for managing its resources so well that we can provide both for your housing needs as individuals as well as some of the capital needs for your schools.
It remains our intention to provide a continuous, reliable and dedicated source of funding to enhance the education programme, incorporating other grants and loans from local and international sources.
Apart from these measures, the E-Learning Project, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Commerce Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education will provide considerable support to the classroom teachers and your students at the secondary level. It is geared at improving mastery of the most widely taken and relevant subjects at the CXC level, and with your active collaboration, the results in the first set of schools should be reflected in the next two to three years.
These are but two of the ways in which material support will assist you in realising your institutional and national objectives. I must also add that the Teachers Colleges under the modernized and technologically advanced Joint Board programmes will continue to upgrade the technological and presentational skills of their graduates to give your students their best chance of success.
For the record, I repeat my concern that the Ministry of Education must play its part through policy development and monitoring, the effective use of the Regional Education Authorities and the work of Education Officers and Specialists to support the work in our classrooms.
The Government has made several strategic interventions for the start of this school year. The across the board subsidy of $3000 per year for each student in every high school will make a difference to every school and to every household. Whatever the rationalization process between the School Boards and the Ministry may be in relation to voluntary auxiliary or capital development contributions, this is a year when we expect every child to be in school from the very first day of opening.
Let me remind you also that the book rental fees are guaranteed by the government, so no child can be denied access to texts under the rental scheme.
Our commitment to education sprang from the quest to build an egalitarian society – founded on social justice and opening the doors for equal opportunity and human upliftment.
In today’s competitive global environment, it is reinforced by the linkages between access to knowledge and the cutting edge of Information Technology.
This is why we must replace, extend and provide new school places, build science laboratories, language training facilities, provide administrative space, supply furniture and equipment to met the needs of the system.
Under the World Bank programme there will be a capacity increase of 4,250 places.
Under the IDB programme there will be a capacity increase of 4,410 places.
In the New Academic Year, we will create out of local resources additional 2500 spaces.
All of this is in addition to what has been coming on stream in the Western Jamaica Schools project.
But let me repeat. Our current emphasis is not only on access to schooling and presence in the classroom, but exposure to quality broad-based and relevant education. Yours is the central task to ensure that all these supporting elements are harnessed and focused on the development of each and every child in front of you or around you in the classrooms of our schools.
Yours is the task to transform the minds. Yours is the task to build personal self-confidence in each and every child. Yours is the task to ensure that there is a higher level of social skills and cultural awareness.
Our future economic success and social harmony, our ability to become a most caring and responsible people will rest not only on the achievements of your students in the academic disciplines but in the holistic development of these young people as individuals.
Our economic future will depend very heavily on our ability to provide a workforce educated and trained for employment or self-employment largely in the services sector. That is where growth is likely to be most rapid. A knowledge-based economy is clearly what Jamaica must be aiming to become.
But I return to the vision statement for 2015. Our people must be results-oriented, purposeful, far-sighted, ambitious, creative and motivated – not only by the need for personal advancement but by a sense of responsibility for the other person, for the community and the nation.
We have to nurture and educate our youngsters to appreciate their culture, to display personal self-worth, to be proud of their identity, to recognize that each person has a talent that makes him or her special, and makes him or her a contributor to the enhancement of the total society.
If we are to survive and indeed succeed as a people, then rampant individualism, a trampling on the individual rights of others, flagrant disrespect of laws and regulations, insensitivity and crass behaviour can form no part of our future.
The teacher is at the very heart of this process. The roles and responsibilities of teacher become almost daunting given the present context. Your tasks are not just formal teaching but the imparting of values, attitudes and behaviours which are consistent with this ever changing and adverse environment.
Students must learn how to learn; they have to be adaptable.
In the face of deteriorating social institutions and social mores that are constantly being challenged, they must make choices that lead to the creation of wholesome individuals, communities and societies. This is the core of sustainable national development.
You have a challenge not only to promote the positive values and attitudes and to encourage appropriate behaviours, but to engage your students in an exploration of the reasons why we have to look at the world through different eyes. In an age of access to all kinds of influences, cultural, political and social, young people have to be affirmed, nurtured and assisted to understand themselves, their environment and their world, in a way which teachers perhaps never had to contemplate in the past.
Mr. Chairman, I know that the demands are onerous, but they are nonetheless absolutely inescapable. I know that there are elements in the society working against the objectives that we in this room are talking about. But Robert Nesta Marley whose special year this is, says to you and to me, “Don’t give up the fight.”
We are all in this together and every player in the team must pull his or her weight.
I urge this Association to enhance the commendable efforts it is already making to promote professional development and professional practice within the schools.
I urge this Association to stand up for the rights of teachers but also to support the responsibility of Principals to manage their institutions and manage them well.
I urge this Association to put Jamaica and Jamaica’s children first at all times, to focus on the long term horizons, to make every step towards that horizon a practical, positive and professional step.
You are the persons standing in the gap between potential and performance. You have produced thousands of young men and women of whom our country can be justly proud. But every one of our children matters.
Each of our children can learn and every one of them must be brought to the highest level of achievement which you can make possible.
If Jamaica is to enhance its reputation for being the most investment friendly territory in the region, if we are to be remembered more for our athletes, our hospitality and our work ethic than for our crime statistics, then we must take responsibility for achieving the outcomes.
We must give all of our students their best chance of becoming the best that they can and wish to be – confident, competent and caring persons and high quality performers in this competitive globalized world environment.
We have set ourselves national targets to be achieved by the year 2015, consistent with the Millennium Development Goals. These relate to a better quality of life, as indicated by – among other things – health standards, environmental standards, status of women, provision for the disabled, all contributing to improved per capita income and enhanced living standards. The 2015 vision statement envisions all of these and more.
Few of them can be achieved if the human development about which I have just spoken does not become our major focus and indeed preoccupation. For the sake of your own future, that of your children and the generations to come, let me repeat my call to you:
“Stand in the gap between potential and performance and be the bridges of excellence between the present and the future through the children of Jamaica.”
If you do that in this period when the most far-reaching transformation of the education system is taking place, your legacy will be assured and future generations will rise up and call you blessed.