Speech by the Prime Minister

STEM for Growth Symposium UTECH

STEM for Growth Symposium UTECH

Keynote Address


The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON, PC, MP

Prime Minister of Jamaica

At the

STEM for Growth Symposium UTECH


April 24, 2024


It’s getting hotter this year. The truth is that we’ve always had these kinds of fluctuation in our weather, but we’re seeing it now with greater intensity and greater frequency so it’s not merely climate variation, it is really climate change. And I’m certain that Glen can attest to it but even My generation and Sydney’s generation can say we have never felt it this hot before and it is something that we are reflecting on. So, yes, I start at that point to say that there are challenges that are emerging that our creativity and that creativity expressed through technology is going to be required for humankind to survive; that’s kind of like the big picture that we have to consider when we think of STEM.

Think of it this way, can technology and the human effort change the climate? And I believe the answer to that is yes. Technology and human effort have changed the climate for the worst. Can technology and human effort mitigate and adapt and who knows, possibly reverse the worst effect of climate change? That’s just food for thought. That’s just to stimulate your thinking about STEM at the highest level.

Marlon started off by pointing out the necessary element of the motivation for change which is a vision. Before a vision, there has to be a passion. You have to find the problem, solve the problem, but you have to have that passion and what I want to say is that from the presentation that Marlon made, Sydney, and clearly from Glen, there is a passion for change, a passion to bring meaningful change to Jamaica by STEM. And I want to congratulate particularly Marlon and Glen for the efforts that they are making to make Jamaica a STEM country.

The vision, obviously, is to make Jamaica the place of choice for people to live, work, raise their family and I have added retire in paradise. Isn’t that a good vision? So, there are some other elements to that vision, we want Jamaica to be a peaceful and productive and prosperous country.  Is that a vision we can all agree with?  Yes. Peace, productivity, prosperity; there’s one other element to that and in the Jamaican context, that’s very important, this business of social justice. Given our history, you can have peace, you can have prosperity, you can be productive, but how is that distributed in the country? There has to be this issue of equity s it has to be a fair country.  And indeed, some will say you won’t have peace unless you have equity.  And if you don’t have equity, you may not necessarily have the highest level of productivity. And if you don’t have the highest level of productivity, you will not have the highest levels of prosperity.

So, I want to make some connections in your minds today that the thrust for peace and for productivity is underpinned always by the understanding that we are going to build a fair and just and equitable society. If we can pursue peace and productivity, that will lead to greater prosperity and greater prosperity will reinforce peace and productivity, so the idea is in the vision to create what we call a virtuous cycle; that is what we want for Jamaica. We want to create this virtuous cycle where our vision is sustainable.

Now, for that to happen, there are some things that we need to address. For the Jamaicans here listening in the audience, for our students who are here, you wake up every day to the challenges of Jamaica and we know what they are. We can think about our road network. We can think about our shelter infrastructure, our residential and commercial infrastructure. We can think about our utility infrastructure, water, internet, electricity. We can think about our municipal services infrastructure, garbage collection. We can think about our health infrastructure, the delivery of health care. We can think of all the challenges we face, and they are always well enumerated. So, for the average Jamaican trying to reconcile this vision of the place of choice where we are productive and peaceful and delivering prosperity and we’re trying to reconcile that with what we wake up to every day, it can lead to a sense of frustration, even disenchantment.  And that is something that governments have to deal with, not just in Jamaica, but right across the developing world.  How do we a people, therefore, develop a plan that leads towards the materialization of the vision? How do we achieve the vision?

We know what the problems are. We have found the problems, we have the vision and the passion, how do we find the solutions?  Now, let’s talk about solutions. Firstly, for these kinds of nation building challenges, they’re not going to happen overnight. They won’t be at the snap of the fingers. There may be some but in general, these are problems that you’re going to solve over a long period of time and sometimes the solutions, as they are implemented, are imperceptible so you’re not going to see the change happening immediately but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the action. You have to take the actions.

The other point to note about pursuing the solution is that they are not always sequential, meaning you can’t wait to solve this problem and then you move on to solve the other problem and then you solve the other problem after that. The solutions have to actually be simultaneous, so you have to figure out ways how to solve all the problems all at once. It won’t always be like that because there are some things that have to happen sequentially but as far as policy makers go, when you’re looking at the national problems, you’re always trying to find solutions that will deal with most of the problems right away. There is one solution to most of the problems right away and that is fix the economy.

I’m saying this for the audience that is here, but particularly for the students who are coming who the economy may not be necessarily a subject that they would want to necessarily put at the forefront of their concerns.  And indeed, for most Jamaicans, the consideration is never about the economy; it’s always about the things that flow from the economy, inflation, employment, roads but they never generally make the connection to how important it is to have your economy properly run.

So, solving the question about how your economy is doing is what I call a super solution to many of the problems. This is why my administration has spent so much time emphasizing and so much effort on ensuring that we manage the Jamaican economy well and we have gotten recognition for this by all the international agencies, by all the development entities; it’s well established. It’s not a point that I’m here trying to make political credit out of. It’s just a very important strategy for the development of the country that we must fix the economy and ensure that the economy is sustainable. And I believe we are at that point where we can say that we have built out the institutional and structural framework to ensure that our economy is doing fairly well in terms of generating the revenues necessary to ensure that we can start to tackle the problems that affect the society.

But there is another element of the solution, which we have to pay attention to. So, it’s good to have the economy doing well, but how do we grow the economy? How do we expand the economy? And that is a question that Jamaica has struggled to answer over the last five decades. Even in the 1990s, when the global economy did well and we saw the emergence of Asia as an economic power, Jamaica was not doing well.  In the 2000s, the world economy, though it was struck by a massive recession in the last part of it, the world economy still grew but Jamaica did very poorly, being affected by the global recession.

In the 2010s, again, we struggled, and we are now just starting to see recovery and stability. The next challenge for us now is to elevate our growth horizon from the 1% – 3% range in which we have fallen to now get to 3% to 5% to 6% growth.  And so, a lot of people look at it and say, wow, that’s very ambitious. I think it is a target we can reach, and we can reach it if we are able to harness the incredible talent that exists in this country for STEM. If we can harness the creativity of Jamaicans like Jada Wright, who stood at this platform and spoke so eloquently for a 14-year-old admitted to university in the field of technology and let me tell you that there are many other Jada Wrights out there, we just haven’t found them. The system hasn’t recognized them.  Their parents may not even know. The teachers don’t see them in the classroom to identify them. There are no programmes sufficient to recognize the talent, take the talent, develop the talent, promote the talent and that is why we are gathered here today. You are sitting in this room at this conference to be a part of the next line of effort in turning our dream and vision into the reality. So, we have dealt with the economic issues in terms of systems and institutions, we must now deal with the human resource element. Jamaica is not likely to discover oil in the near future. The oil that we have are our people; that is the real resource of this country.

So, if you think about the concept of Jamaica, and let’s say we start at the first industrial revolution in the 1800s, Jamaica missed out on that. Truth is we were a plantation economy, and indeed the colonial powers focus more on the maintenance of a system of enslavement than a system of modernization and mechanization, so Jamaica missed out on the world industrialization. We’re now at the fourth industrial revolution, and what is the driving force behind this fourth industrial revolution? I mean, some will say, again, automation, which is a form of mechanization. Yeah, that’s it, but the real power and the real driving force behind the fourth industrial revolution is what is called the development of ICT and using that information technology to create what is called a cyber physical world; autonomous driving, as Marlon said, a computer that has created intelligence to respond to unprogrammed and diverse situations, artificial intelligence.  And that really requires a human mind that is trained to understand the cyber physical world.

So, Jamaica has to ask itself, are we going to continuously be, or continually be the country that consumes other people’s mind power? Or are we going to take our mind power, our brain power, and convert it into products for other people to consume? That’s really the question.  Are we training our students to identify the problems of the world and to bring their own creative solutions to it? Is our education system structured to do that?  Or are we saying to our students, if you don’t get it as all the book has it, you are not bright? And that is why we are gathered here today.

We are gathered here today under the leadership of St Edward, Marlon and Glen to promote a mindset change in how we will educate the generations going forward. For them to be able to convert their creativity, whether it is in arts, whether it is in the science, whether it is in technology, whether it is in engineering, whether it is in mathematics, to convert that into iPhones, autonomously driven cars, websites that offer great services that can become a part of our GDP; that is the core of it.

So, the government has for the last five years been working quite assiduously on ensuring that Jamaica becomes a digital society and that digital society agenda has several elements to it starting with, of course, the construction of six STEM schools; meaning schools that will be pulled out of the traditional modality of education, run under a different education regulation that is designed specifically to promote this agenda of developing the Jamaican who does not fear mathematics, does not fear engineering, does not fear science, that embraces it and that will use it for the creation of value for the Jamaican people.

We have started to put around the country free Wi-Fi hotspots so that more Jamaicans can get connected and get services, not just use it for games and entertainment, but to improve the quality of their life. We have now put in place the broadband project.  Elements of that has started, and for those of you who live in Kingston, you would see us laying the cables, the broadband fiber optics going around to create a fiber optic ring in Kingston; that has begun. We are ensuring that our teachers have access to the instruments of technology and that is why we are giving out 10,000 laptops for our teachers which has already started.

Teachers and students, we have four centres of excellence for STEM opened with the Heart Trust/ NSTA across Jamaica and they are doing all kinds of things at HEART and I’m very pleased with the work that they’re doing. The government last year launched the STEM tertiary scholarship programme where we provided 1,250 Jamaican students with scholarships over the next five years to pursue a STEM teaching career at Mico University and there are several other initiatives but the one I want to spend a little bit of time on is the one mentioned by Glen.

Glen has been an activist coming to my office at least three times and there is no conversation that Glen and I would have had that he would not mention his dream to build the STEM centre for innovation in Jamaica and we are at one that this should be done, and it is indeed an excellent idea. We just need to find where it should be located and as we seek the redevelopment of Kingston, I’m very careful that we should locate strategic buildings in areas that make logical sense. You don’t want to put your strategic buildings in places where you can’t access them, infrastructure is not there, so we have a plan for the redevelopment of the Heroes Circle area, which is in proximity to Mico and I’m certain Glen, that within that plan, we will find a space for the STEM Teacher Innovation Centre. Your dream sir will become a reality and I want to commend you for your unwavering efforts to fulfil the vision of Jamaica that we both share. Thank you, Glen.

So today I am pleased to declare Jamaica as a STEM island with a vision of fostering innovation, driving economic growth, and empowering our people to thrive in the global knowledge economy. Through our collaborative all hands-on deck approach government, private sector, academia, and civil society, we will work towards this goal. Jamaica is now officially declared a STEM island.

We will implement comprehensive STEM education reforms from the primary to the tertiary levels. We will develop ecosystems to encourage startups, entrepreneurs, and innovators. We will encourage the growth of STEM industries such as biotechnology, information technology, and advanced manufacturing. We will also leverage STEM to grow and monetize the musical, artistic, cultural, and other natural talents of our people. We will leverage STEM solutions to address environmental challenges including climate change, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture. We will develop a skilled workforce capable of competing in global markets. We will position Jamaica as a hub for STEM research, innovation, collaboration, and other developments in the Caribbean and beyond. By embracing STEM as a national priority, Jamaica will unlock its full potential driving prosperity, peace, and productivity in a sustainable and equitable way for all our Jamaican citizens and indeed for the world.

God bless you and thank you.