Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, has launched the Education Transformation Commission 2020, which will be tasked with reviewing and assessing the country’s public education system and making recommendations.
Speaking at the virtual launch at the Office of the Prime Minister on July 22, Mr. Holness emphasised that it is time to take decisive action to improve the education system for all Jamaicans.
The terms of reference for the Commission, to be chaired by John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, Professor Orlando Patterson, will be to comprehensively review and assess Jamaica’s education system, including its structure, operation, and processes, to recommend an action plan for change.
Mr. Holness reiterated that education is the “great socio-economic equaliser” and the country’s core focus must be on education.
“A good education system helps to lift individuals and families out of poverty and to strengthen the middle class. Several of us, myself included, came from very humble beginnings,” he said.
“We owe it to the current and future generations of Jamaican children to give them the same opportunity to uplift themselves,” Mr. Holness added.
However, the Prime Minister noted that under the current education system, access to the best schools is too highly correlated with socioeconomics, and that must change.
“We must take decisive steps to improve the quality of our education system for all. This is a problem that has existed for decades and we must finally address it,” Mr. Holness said.
The Prime Minister pointed out that the last major comprehensive review of the national public education system was undertaken in 2004 with the task Force on educational reform, hence the reason for the new Commission.
He said it is evident that there is need for another comprehensive review of the public education system covering all levels of education – early childhood, primary, secondary, vocational and higher education.
Consequently, he noted that the terms of reference for the Commission are wide-ranging and involve looking at the entire educational ecosystem.
The Prime Minister told members of the new Commission that his charge to them would be twofold.
“The first is to advise us as to what we need to do as a Government to create a world-class educational system geared towards enabling our people to fulfil their potential and develop the skills base and human capital required for Jamaica to compete successfully in the 21st century global economy,” he said.
“The second is to ensure inclusivity. The system we build must ensure that all our children and learners have access to this world-class education system that we build. If we build a world-class education system, but it is still not accessible to the ordinary Jamaican child, we would have failed,” Mr. Holness added.
Serving alongside Professor Patterson on the Commission will be: Professor of Law and International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University, Professor Eleanor Taylor; Professor of Development Finance and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor David Tennant; Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, UWI, Professor Michael Taylor; Professor of Child Health, Child Development and Behaviour, UWI, Professor Maureen Samms Vaughan; and Executive Director of the Centre for Digital Innovation and Advanced Manufacturing, Caribbean Maritime Institute, Erica Simmons.
Also on the Commission are Archbishop Emeritus of Kingston, Most Rev. Donald Reece; Acting President of the University of Technology, Professor Colin Giles; Assistant General Manager, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, Jamaica National Group Limited, Dr. Dana Morris Dixon; Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Producers Group Limited, Dr. Jeffrey Hall; Chief Executive Officer of EduFocal Limited, Gordon Swaby; Former Principal of Ardenne High, Esther Tyson; Principal, Church Teachers’ College, Dr. Garth Anderson, and former Principal of Naggo Head Primary School, Floretta Plummer.
The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude for their service and the critical work they will be doing. “Your work will reshape the destiny of Jamaica,” he said.
“All our children deserve the precious gift of education; we have promised it to them, now is the time to deliver,” Mr. Holness said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, Hon Karl Samuda, in welcoming the Commission, said “the world is changing rapidly and our educational system must also evolve if we are to properly equip our students with the real world skills they will need, not only to survive but thrive on the local and international stage”.
“We have to ensure that all Jamaicans, regardless of their address or circumstances, have access to quality education, and this must be equal opportunity for all,” he emphasised, adding that the Ministry is looking forward to the pending recommendations.
For his part, Opposition Spokesman on Education, Peter Bunting, commended the Prime Minister for convening the high-level Commission, while emphasising the Opposition’s support.
“When it comes to education, I think all of us as politicians should focus less on the results of the next election and more on the outcomes for the next generation. That is why we don’t hesitate in supporting this initiative,” he said.
In the meantime, the Commission’s Chairman said the new task is humbling and is a remarkable opportunity to complete some of the work from the 1970s and also one of the single most important challenges in his life.
He too stressed the importance of education, noting that “all the economists have now converged on this one point, that the single most important factor explaining development and successful change is education”.