NEW YORK – Jamaican Opposition Leader Andrew Holness says the country’s deep-rooted income inequality has linkages to its education system.
The country was cited by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a 2011 report as having the second worst income inequality gap in the Americas. The country is ranked higher than even Haiti and Brazil, Gini coefficient score 59.9. Only Suriname scored higher at 61.6 according to the 2011 report.
“We have in Jamaica, what some say is ‘dog eat dog’ competition and that starts in the education system because of the GSAT system, where people who have good social and economic support lay claim to the better educational places,” Mr. Holness told members of the Diaspora in New York, USA. And stated that, that continues the cycle of the two Jamaicas, where if you are born in a family that does well it is likely that your children will do well and you will go on to continue the cycle.
He was speaking at the “Outlook for the Future” public forum organised by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS), under the theme: “The Jamaican Economy: A Vision for Transformation,” at the Hilton Midtown in Manhattan, on October 21.
The former Prime Minister and Education Minister said Jamaica’s economic future is heavily dependent on its educated population, pointing out that the global paradigm was shifting towards services, which has to be supported by competent and knowledgeable human resources.
He said while Jamaica has had in place universal primary education for more than 130 years, it has not translated into universal secondary education. Only about 70 percent of school-age children get three years of basic school education; six years of primary school learning, and at the high school level, four to five years of education. The rest, he underscored, drop out along the way.
“They end up on the periphery of the society and fuel the crime and social deviancy problems we have,” Mr. Holness said.
He noted that a major part of the problem with secondary education was the inequality in access to quality education at the secondary level, which he reiterated was still determined heavily by societal class structures.
“And that’s why when President Obama spoke about income equality; the country that he chose to reference was Jamaica. In fact, he said if we are not careful about what we are doing in the United States we will end up like Jamaica,” he told Jamaican New Yorkers at the JNBS Forum.
“Jamaica has the second highest inequality in the Latin America and Caribbean region and my thesis is that the basis of that inequality starts in the education system and I intend to change that,” he said confirming the IMF report findings.
Mr. Holness, who was recently appointed to chair the advisory board of the comprehensive public-private sector initiative, iLead education programme, between the JN Foundation and the Education Ministry, said there is hope for Jamaica’s future and its economic independence, which he underscored, would be achieved through educating its people. Against that background, he said his Government would be making education compulsory, and seek to further level the playing field to ensure that all Jamaicans have access to the same quality of education.
“What we want is what you have in the United States of America when you talk about universal literacy. It shouldn’t matter which school you send your child to, the outcome should be the same,” he said acknowledging the work of the People’s National Party government’s work to improve literacy and the subsequent work of the Jamaica Labour Party to bring literacy at the primary level to 90 percent of students.
He emphasised that to overcome the major barriers to quality and equal education, there is need to remove the issue of politics from the discourse, which he said has stymied the fight against poverty since independence.
“We as a people have spent our energy for the past 50 years and rightfully so, fighting for our political independence and recognition, but Norman Manley said it is now time for us to secure our economic independence,” he said.
The Outlook for the Future series, organised by JNBS, has been held in the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom since 2003 and has successfully brought together representatives of successive administrations and key leaders overseas to engage in frank, open discussions about issues of national importance to Jamaicans locally and in the Diaspora. In addition, the forums provide an environment in which investors can network and explore opportunities for investment in Jamaica.
Past Outlook speakers have included former National Security Minister and current Finance Minister, Dr. Peter Phillips in 2003 and in 2013; former Prime Minister Mr. Bruce Golding, who in 2005, as Leader of the Opposition, was keynote speaker at the meetings; former Finance Minister, Mr. Audley Shaw who attended in 2010; and Dr. Omar Davies, Minister of Transport, Works and Housing who headlined the events in 2013.