Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Editorial | Ruel Reid’s socialism on steroids

Published:Friday | January 11, 2019 | 12:00 AM

 

Ruel Reid, the education minister, is fast becoming a socialist junkie.

That's the only conclusion we can make after the senator made the "bold statement of 'zero to 18 public free education' strategy that gets all our students up to the minimum of having an associate degree that will be paid for by the State".

But boldness is not a virtue when charging full speed over a precipice - for either political party - which also describes Dr Peter Phillips' ill-thought-out pledge of free university placement to the first in every family, to be funded by Jamaican taxpayers.

Mr Reid apparently believes that funding tuition and improving school attendance is equivalent to extracting value from the education system. But if a raw, utilitarian perspective were to be applied to schools and their output - measured in academic achievement and, later, employability - billions of dollars are already going down the drain.

There are more pressing matters that should occupy the mind of Senator Reid, such as upgrading school infrastructure, improving the technical competence of the teaching corps, and rationalising administration and management. It is an assault on these problems, this newspaper believes, that would prove revolutionary to the process of education in Jamaica and set the framework for a more comprehensive transformation of the economy.

 

Free-for-all paradigm

 

Government policy has too often accommodated the politics of patronage and dependency, particularly when there is the absence of a needs-based mechanism geared specifically towards cushioning poor, marginalised children. What now exists is a free-for-all paradigm in which financially capable parents, including the well-to-do, are subsidised by the State.

The Holness administration's appetite for paternalism seems impossible to satiate.

As an election ploy that proved fruitful, the Jamaica Labour Party promised to raise the income tax threshold to $1.5 million, resulting in the culling of 137,000 workers from a source of compulsory revenue. The policy was predicated on the premise that this would increase the disposable income of an eroding middle class and help trigger a takeoff of the economy.

But those gains, along with the imprudent abolition of tuition and auxiliary fees for all children in public schools, regardless of financial capability, were immediately clawed back by a record tax package amounting to more than $30 billion.

We fear that Senator Reid's misguided epiphany is flawed because he, like Don Quixote, is tilting at windmills, thrusting at the wrong enemy.

 

Diverse labour force

 

The fundamentals of transforming Jamaican education should be anchored on creating a new environment and praxis for producing a diverse, highly skilled labour force for an emerging economy, with particular focus on early childhood tutelage.

Jamaican children are primarily hamstrung by inferior pedagogy and substandard classroom and laboratory infrastructure, such as the wreck into which Whitfield All-Age had evolved before private-sector intervention, as well as incompetent school management that has been repeatedly censured in the education ministry's inspectorate reports.

The Labour Party is becoming more socialist than Michael Manley in the Cold War era. Policy has become incoherent, emblematic in last summer's decision to exempt civil service parents from paying auxiliary fees - which had already been declared non-obligatory!

We would urge Dr Nigel Clarke, the finance minister, whom we suspect to be a bit more adept at using a calculator than Senator Reid and less susceptible to flights of fancy, to pronounce on the viability of the education minister's gusto.

There must be limits to Ruel Reid's socialism on steroids.