Our world today is characterized by constant shifts in the social and political climate and formidable challenges in the form of a global pandemic and its attendant effects. Through it all, one of the most important constants is the education system as the future of the global community cannot be compromised, short changed or left behind.
The Jamaican Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information must be commended for their proactive response to the current crisis caused by the current global pandemic in relation to the corona-virus. The progress made by this ministry since Jamaica’s independence is amply demonstrated in the collective efforts of all stakeholders to ensure the sustainability of a system that is the life blood of the development of any country.
The Jamaican Education System Through the Years
Since the establishment of the Ministry of Education in 1957, the education system in Jamaica has made strides in terms of expanding the school system and in raising the enrollment rates in all four levels: early childhood, primary, secondary, and tertiary. Currently, the education system caters to approximately 788,000 students at all levels with a universal enrollment in the early childhood level up to the first cycle of the secondary level.
In 2006, the Jamaican government introduced programmes and projects that sought to improve the quality of education in the country. It implemented the recommendations made by the National Education Task Force, which included the restructuring of the Ministry of Education and the establishment of the Regional Education Authorities. In addition, textbooks and workbooks at the primary levels have been nationally standardized to be accessed by students free of cost. Book rental schemes and lunch programmes are also subsidized in an effort to make them more accessible.
Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Despite the progress of the education system over the years and the commendable efforts made so far by the Ministry in response to the coronavirus crisis, deliberate steps must be taken to ensure that no student is left behind. Admittedly, the coronavirus epidemic has brought about unsettling changes in practically all sectors. It is worthy of note that among the obvious responses by the Education sector are donation of tablets, distribution of food to students on the PATH programme through partnership made with restaurants across Jamaica, and the offering of sanitization grants to Early Childhood Institutions. The Ministry of Education also partnered with education providers to deliver learning materials free of cost to students through the Ministry’s website during the period when schools were ordered closed, as well as, facilitated the training of nearly 200 teachers in using the digital platform for online education.
The move on the part of the Ministry to partner with internet service providers to offer education plans to further support e-learning options, is laudable. Digital learning resources are also made available online through open platforms like One on One Educational Services, Book Fusion, and Edu Focal.
Furthermore, educational content is made available on selected television channels at set times during weekdays, with rebroadcasts on weekends. Educational resources up to the secondary level have been compiled and shared with schools for dissemination among the student population. Printing services and printed learning kits have also been distributed for students with no access to the internet.
We commend the Ministry’s efforts and strategies to ensure that students at all levels have equitable access to learning materials during this time. But the road ahead remains uncertain, and schools all over Jamaica are looking to the Ministry for a clear directive on the way forward. In line with this, gathering education experts can help craft programmes and critical policies that the United Nations/UNICEF recommends to be put in place before reopening schools. This will ensure that even as we adapt to the new normal created by the impact of the pandemic, we are also looking to the future.