Investing in failure: Jamaica’s poorly educated people

Let me put forward a proposition that makes sense to me as an economist. We have an underused pool of human capital. We’ve not maximized it’s potential. What I mean is that we’ve not done the best for the people.  Put simply, too many are under- or un-educated. (Official data are dense but not too easy to analyze, but tend to show mediocre levels of achievement throughout the school system.) That imposes costs on them each and the nation as a whole. If we made better use of our people our country would be better off.

How have we under used the people? We now have compulsory education, but that does not guarantee a well-educated population.

We have a core of teachers who are not of the best calibre. That’s not uncommon. Training is not able to bring all up to the same high level. However, that has a ripple effect and teaching is not as good as it could be. Children are less educated.

But, children also contribute to this, along with their parents. We have several kinds of students that are unwilling or unable to succeed in formal education. We have parents who facilitate that, wittingly and unwittingly. Some children come out of school with proof of this, such as no certificate of graduation, or evidence of limited competence. The core of this problem is complex and may go back many generations. Attempts to correct it may fail, in part or wholly. Or no attempts are made, with a certain laissez-faire attitude. Society may just take this in its stride.

When major social problems emerge, some may look around for causes and education may be one culprit.

But the society pays for this in many simple ways, with apparent social problems. We have many people who cannot reason, meaning they do not know how to move through stages of an argument. Let me give a real example from an encounter today.

I went to buy gasoline in Spanish Town. A sign states ‘Pay before getting service’. The attendant approached me and I asked if I needed to pay first. He told me no. He filled the car, asking in the process if I was paying by cash. I said no. He told me to go to the cashier. She asked if I knew there was a $15 fee for using the card. I said no. Silence. I asked her what she was going to do given my ignorance. “It will have to come from the attendant,” she said. At that point, he came to the cashier. This was explained to him. He looked shocked. I suggested that the company needs to ensure staff understand this responsibility and ensure that they advise customers accordingly.

This is not so complicated, but the consequences of not doing it are potentially costly. The cashier asked me a question but it was really a statement. When I answered the question, she had no reply. She expected my compliance and an extra $15 from me. When I did not accept, she seemed confused. She’d not thought things through. Maybe, I’m an exception, but not a surprise for that.

I was also being reasonable, because the amount was trivial. But imagine if it were not. Tempers flare. Voices rise. You get the picture. If you try to work through the issue you may be seen as difficult or confrontational.

Some of our lack of education is overcome because we are a transactional society: we often assume that something has to be given in every human exchange. Formal education may not advance such exchanges or notably inhibit them.

This transactional outlook comes with many assumptions, such as dress well and you must have money to spare. It’s often not true or true but not in the particular setting. But, it is sufficient to know that t sees good education as one thing for a certain set of people, and with it status.

We also need to understand that many see educational outcomes as preordained in some sense. The system favours some and penalizes others. Arguing it’s not so, may not be easy. However, we know that education can open doors despite socioeconomic standing. Our best schools seem merit-based but we also know that certain socioeconomic groups rarely, if ever, have their children attend so-called ‘bad schools’. Something is a bit off.

But, people also learn that society gives fame and fortune to those who may not excel in education, but have prowess elsewhere. Certain athletes know that the good life can be their despite educational failings. So, too, with musicians. So, educational value is not a straight matching with socioeconomic standing. You can risk not learning and not suffer. The fact that this is only true for a select few is often lost or ignored.

But, what to do? Could we scrap it all and start over? Realistically, no. How about making gradual changes? That’s much like what I see taking place. Weak schools and students seem to get targeted for uplifting. Is it working? Slowly, maybe. Very little, possibly.

We have had decades to invest in ourselves and failed to do so. We reap that as an inability to compete in areas that see us excel, easily. The repercussions are that, in a world which is becoming more knowledge-based, we are poorly positioned to benefit.

We tickle and tinker, but it’s really being Tweedledee and Tweedledum. We get our kicks from living our transactional existence, fighting over crumbs shed and occasionally some bigger morsels. But, we’ve not seen our place in the world slump as a body of educated people. Our brightest flee as soon as they can–85 percent of graduates go abroad. Drained of our best, what of the rest?

Macroeconomics and IMF tests being passed won’t address this problem, which also goes to the decades-long lack of national vision we have lived with.

Jamaica 2030? Half way into that decade, I’m not sure we’ve even got out of the blocks.

Cockroach! Di Rahtid Cucaracha!

My wife hates, with a capital H, cockroaches. “Dennis! Get rid of it!” Is something I’ve heard a few many times. Stamp on it, is often her own way to deal with the insect. I’m annoying. I don’t believe you should just go around killing things. We all have our lives and a role. I also prefer to let nature work its balance.

The Chikungunya virus focused many minds on the fact that our human habits create habitats for many things we don’t like. Bluntly, we are the problem. In typical human fashion, we look to blame someone else. Once again, our dirty habits are to blame. La Cucaracha came and danced while the mice were away…or at least, the Shitzu.

Imagine her horror when, coming home from Christmas holiday. The house was littered with dead cockroaches.

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/85d/55521353/files/2015/01/img_0630.jpgThe agony and the ecstasy. Cockroaches…but dead ones. She didn’t faint. I was surprised. Christmas can get relaxing, so I just assumed she was in such laid back mode that “Sweep them up,” was now the worst reaction she could muster.

I’m not a great one for mysteries. I wondered if being empty and without animals or lizards able to roam around, the cockroaches had just got too fresh and held some wild orgies while we were away. Some, as is common, couldn’t handle the pace, and passed out. Friends normally haul you home after such events, but if they are really plastered they forget or are incapable, and just leave the body of buddies where they lay.

My first instinct, however, was to wonder if this were a sign. We live in a land where people believe in signs and spirits. Obeah! I may need to talk to an elder to know what cockroaches signify.

I’ve heard the term ‘white cockroach’ used as a pejorative term in several contexts. Other then that, cockroach is cockroach.

Like with our mosquito friends, we need to live cleaner lives. Maybe, it was a metaphor for what 2015 is supposed to be. Out with old, in with the new type of message. Gwan wid yu!