Address by Prime Minister Andrew Holness
GSAT Awards Ceremony for Children of Staff Members at the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the Cabinet Office
August 24, 2016 OPM Lobby
I’m always very pleased to attend these ceremonies to acknowledge the hard work of our students who have done well at the GSAT examinations but when I reflect on it, I can’t point out any other country that does this kind of celebration of their children transitioning from primary to secondary and I’ve looked at a few.
It shows the value that parents place on the success of their children moving from primary to secondary but it also shows that it is not a guarantee though by policy it is that every child is guarantee a place in secondary education but it is not a guarantee that every child will have a place of their choice in secondary education. So in effect we are celebrating our children getting a privilege.
The way in which our culture has evolved around education is that we have literally accepted that only the best and brightest should get this privilege and that I believe we should change. It should be a foregone conclusion that every single Jamaican child would not need to go through this rite of passage because what you are literally celebrating is the opportunity for a good life outcome for your child getting into a secondary school of your choice. That’s what you’re celebrating. Once your child gets into the school of choice then their life opportunities, the probability of success in life opens up and what we want in Jamaica is that every child, no matter the household that you come from, the income bracket that you come from, the social context that you come from, every single Jamaican child, you close your eyes and you pick a school and you know that that school is going to give you a good life opportunity.
And if that were the case then we wouldn’t need to have this ceremony here today but from a cultural perspective after many years of not having education as a universal right we still retain the celebration of the privilege. There was a time when secondary education was indeed a privilege and there was not enough secondary space for all children leaving primary system and you had to compete for the space. We’re still today competing for the space so in effect our education system is the survival of the brightest.
What we know about education is that we have to build a system that fits the student and not the student to fit the system and all the reforms that we’re undertaking is about ensuring that our education system is responsive to the needs of our children.
There’s not just one type of learner or one type of child and what the education system does is literally force the parents to force their children to become one type of learner. It is in my opinion a disservice because there are so many other forms of expression of brilliance and achievement that gets ignored because of how the system is rigidly structured. If we’re really going to see the fulfilment of all our children we need to have an education system that caters to their various skills and abilities, so that is what we have to work on.
Yes we have limited resources and yes it is a challenge but my view on the matter is that education should be a right for all our children and that you should be entitled to a place in primary school as we’ve had for a hundred and thirty years or more in universal primary education. You are entitled to a place in a good quality high school regardless of your background or your ability to pay for it; you’re entitled to that. It’s your right and we as a country must provide that for you.
What you learn today within five years is likely not to be the case anymore so the education that you have to rely on is the education about how to learn because yours is a future of continuous learning so you have to develop the skills of how to learn. And your education has to be one about context because you will be faced with so much information. All of you I’m certain have smart phones, computers and your parents have to tell you put it down. No? (Laughs).
I know how it is because I have a son who went through the GSAT this year and it’s the same thing. They’re all about computers and information and Google and Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat. They have so much information that I certainly didn’t have but the question is what are you going to do with it.
Not all the information that you see is true so your parents and your teachers will have to place things in context because we cannot filter the information for you nor can we hide information from you. The education system has to strengthen your ability to make decisions about the information you are fed and place things in context. The other thing that the education system has to do is to strengthen the value system because what information does is that it changes value systems.
What you believe as the foundation of the Jamaican state the Jamaican society, our culture is continuously being challenged by information coming from all over the world from places with different context, different experiences, different notions than how we see things so there has to be a constant reinforcement of what are the values of the Jamaican society and we have to teach that in school. So Civics which we all used to be taught in primary school and in high school, we have to bring that back into the system.
We keep saying it and then we see bits and pieces of it coming but I’ve spoken to the Minister of Education and there are some elements of it now in the system but we have to do more of it, otherwise you could end up with a society with so many different values that it becomes chaotic and conflicting.
In my closing comments I will say to you that the government is committed to ensuring that universal access to secondary education and we try to put that in place by our no tuition fee policy.
We understand the cost of education but we also understand the cost of ignorance. The education system has to be flexible; it has to fit the needs of the students and not the students to fit the education system.
Teachers have to teach according to how the students learn and not the other way around and we have to strengthen our value system so that our students can place the bombardment of information that they will receive in context. In this way, they can become better individuals with strong characters to withstand the turbulence of the world in which we live.
I want to congratulate the students who have managed to make their place of choice for the hard work that you’ve put in but just to say to you the hard work has just begun. Thank you very much