Are we investing enough in the education of our people?

Having observed the recent wave of de-registration by the UWI Mona yet again, I can’t help but think about my fellow young, ambitious Jamaicans; many of whom, like me, started with little but work tirelessly to achieve something substantial in life.

A tale of being poor and ‘boasy’

I’m writing to all those who benefited from free tuition back in the day, those whose wealth was created indirectly by a government that gave them a shot at free education, those who benefited from the scholarships and bursaries funded by the generosity of another, those who do not understand what it is like to be in a family where there are no university graduates– where one feels like the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the entire family rests on his/her success… Yes, I’m talking to all of you who draw the conclusion that students unable to pay are just lazy and unwilling to cough up the millions. The truth is, the majority is just ambitious– poor, but ambitious!

You criticize them for biting more than they could possibly chew but fail to understand the plight of the many who apply and commence studies on the last string of hope and innate belief that something will work out and some money will come through to cover those fees; that the relatives that promised help will come through for them, that the promise from their political representative will materialize, that they will find a side job while at university to help them, that if they can only scrape together the resources little by little for the first year they might be able to do better for the next year by making the most of a work and travel experience. So to those who think they are just too ambitious, pardon them for being poor and distressed– many of you were once like them, but benefited from free tertiary education, government and government entities’ scholarships and bursaries.

The truth is, the state of tertiary financing in this country must be brought under the microscope and urgent efforts must be made to fix it once and for all. PM Holness boasts being the Prime Minister to lead the fastest pace of infrastructural development in Jamaica’s history (disputable) but with more and more students seeking to gain tertiary education, compounded with the financial challenges that come with seeking tertiary qualifications, he could also oversee the greatest levels of tertiary level deregistration in Jamaica’s history if something is not done exigently to aid the plight of those who seek to have but do not yet have.

Honour your contributions to government but they may never work for you

Life is hard when you’re poor, imagine paying over your contributions for decades but still being unable to qualify for a house through NHT and worse, seeing that section on your pay slip that says “Education Tax” knowing well that you may never get an upgrade on your education and that your child may never get access to tertiary education– that’s certainly a double whammy!

The NHT being so cash rich that it’s money can be used by the government for whatever, whenever, is proof that an Education Trust offering low interest long term loans to their contributors/children of contributors is a step worth exploring by those who have the political will, since making tertiary education free will “cost too much” in this “tight fiscal space” with the stipulations of our “IMF agreement” even while ministers and ministries splurge of state resources.

My understanding of the opportunities that can be opened for an entire family when one benefits from tertiary education forms part of the reason I give support to the “First in the Family Scholarship” proposed by Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips and championed by Senator Crawford. This will form a significant first step and a move in the right direction but will not be enough to solve the broader issue of funding tertiary education. A comprehensive review of the current system will become quintessential but any such review must not leave students more disadvantaged at the end of the process.

Mia’s IMF agreement

By declaring to the universe that quality and free education for her people will not be touched even as she negotiated an IMF deal, PM Mia Mottley has demonstrated that our governments aren’t as powerless in negotiations as they would like to make it seem (that or IMF just have it out fi Jamaica).

“IMF deal”, “tight fiscal space” (and others synonyms) have become common (and worthless) excuses used by Governments of Jamaica to not invest more in its greatest asset- its people! Even as we fix the macroeconomy, we must invest in the education of our people and put systems in place to also build from the ground up, because the benefits ‘up top’ will never trickle down to many who need it most.

Will fixing education not contribute to rectifying a great deal of our social ills? We hear that pumping billions into NIDS will fix crime. Could a greater investment in educating our people play an even bigger role in denting crime?

I understand that fixing education isn’t politically expedient. Unlike building or patching a road (or building a new parliament), hosting massive handover ceremonies to hand over fans, ACs, garbage trucks, inter alia, it may not afford that immediate “chest beating” and self aggrandizement. I understand that keeping people uneducated and poor might be good for electioneering but is it truly good for the country in the long run?

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