Education can be easily identified as a key element in the development of a child. A lesser-known fact is that just as education can develop a child, education can act as a catalyst in the development of a country. Education is a component of the modernization theory, in the sense that it removes barriers preventing economic growth and expansion. Properly funded, efficient education systems give countries in the Global South the agency they need to help themselves, as opposed to constantly receiving aid from the Global North. This self-empowerment received through education can act as a ripple effect throughout an entire community, leading to a more skilled work force, productive industry and the overall expansion of the economy. In theory the answer is simple: increase government spending on education; however, in practice the financial resources available to countries in the developing world cannot allow for this.
A few years ago I travelled to Jamaica to volunteer as a teacher's aid in the shantytown of Riverton. While working in the Early Education Centre I was given the opportunity to speak to the principal and manager of the school, Junior Rowe. Throughout the duration of our visit, Junior kept reiterating the importance of universal education. One problem he had noticed in his own school and others in the community was that many families could not afford to send their children to school on a regular basis, whether it be every day, every week or every semester. The school system in Jamaica receives low funds from the government and requires families to cover certain mandatory costs, ranging from books to uniforms, which some families could simply not afford. The fees for each student would only increase as they progressed further through the education system and the system is proving to be ineffective at educating the masses. Due to its weak colonial foundations, fluctuating enrollment rates and preconceived view of its student's futures, Jamaica's education system, like many other's of the Global South, is hindering rather than helping the country's development.
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The Millennium Development Goals and Progress in the Global South
In 2000, the United Nations (UN) put a spotlight on the link between education and development. The UN put forth a list of eight goals entitled the Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), with the overall ambition to eradicate poverty on a global scale. The second goal on the list was to achieve universal primary education. Overall, the world has seen tremendous improvements in the enrollment rates. The net enrolment ratios in primary education have risen from fifty-eight percent to seventy-six percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, seventy-nine percent to ninety percent in southern Asia and from eighty-four percent to ninety percent globally between the years 1998 and 2008 (United Nations 2010). Countries like Burundi, whose enrolment increased by a three-fold after the government removed primary school fees, serve as an example of nations taking measures to improve the devastating state of education systems in the Global South (Ibid).
There are however, many obstacles to overcome before this goal is achieved due to the fact that the poorer a country is, a greater percentage of their children are out of school. Indeed, the poorest twenty percent of the world has thirty-six percent of their boys and thirty-nine percent of their girls not enrolled in any type of education (Ibid). In Sub-Saharan African countries in 2008, a quarter of all students who were of primary school age were out of school (Ibid). What would spark such a great number of students to not receive education? Most of the Global South simply does not have the resources to carry out the type of equal access education systems like those of the Global North. Reaching full enrollment rates requires an adequate supply of teachers and classrooms, which may be difficult for a country with a weak economy and limited finances for government spending (Ibid). In Sub-Saharan Africa, the number of new teachers needed to educate all children at the primary level is equal to the current number of teachers already teaching in the region (Ibid). These statistics are not to discourage from further progress; the Global South has made vast improvements in primary enrollment rates in the past decade, but it is evident that there is still progress to be made, as many children are still not learning (United Nations Development Program 2010).
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A Focus on Education in Jamaica
Jamaica, a small Caribbean island in the Atlantic, is classified as a medium development country but is known internationally for its high crime and poverty rates (Ferguson 2008). With almost two thirds of its 2.6 million population below the age of fifteen, the education they receive greatly affects the future of Jamaica (Ibid). The island's four level education, consisting of early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary levels, has high rates of enrollment throughout earlier years, but drops significantly as the students reach secondary level (Ibid). The net enrollment rate for primary school is ninety-five percent for boys and ninety-four percent for girls, exceeding the global rate, on average, by 4.5 percent (Ibid). Once the students reach the secondary level however, the figures for boys drop to seventy-four percent enrollment and seventy-seven percent for girls (Ibid). This low enrollment in secondary education is a barrier to development as it renders a greater population of Jamaicans unskilled and more likely to be unemployed.
The cause of this seemingly spontaneous decrease in enrollment is actually a result of the strict, decentralized design of the education system (D'Oyley 1979). The Journal of Black Psychology raises the question: "how would you feel if your career path and future were ultimately decided for you at the age of ten to twelve by a rigid academic school system?" (Clark 2010). In Jamaica, students are placed in either a traditional high school or a more progressive stream of schooling based on an island wide test. This strict hierarchal system widens the gap between social classes but also causes students to become discouraged with their academics (Ibid). Indeed, seven of every ten Jamaican students in the tenth grade show symptoms of depression, the majority being students who participate in more traditional schooling (Ibid). This type of academic discouragement is a significant cause of the low enrollment rate in secondary school. While the problem of decreasing enrollment in secondary schools is an issue existing in a later stage of life, it could be prevented through the improving the quality of primary education and eradicating the tendency teachers have to "focus on a few bright students" (Whyte 1977). These improvements would lead to better grades on island wide tests, causing greater enrollment rates in progressive schools, better education qualifications and more skilled employment in the future. Once again it is seen that by placing a greater importance of education, development becomes more attainable.
Colonialism's Detrimental Effects on the Education System
Like many countries in the Global South, Jamaica's current economic and developmental issues derive from its colonial past. As a British colony, Jamaica was exposed to the exploitative behavior and disregard for the country's preexisting culture delivered to them by their colonizers. In the eyes of the colonizers, the importance of educating Jamaican natives was essentially non-existent. Jamaican society was set up as a social pyramid with the white colonizers at the top and "in general, the education aspirations of the groups at the base of the social pyramid [were] known to be low" (D'Oyley 1979). Secondary schooling emerged for the sole purpose of educating the white residents so they could remain up to par with the British students, and it wasn't until the turn of the twentieth century that those in lower social classes were allowed access to it (Whyte 1977). This was not the only indication of colonialism's negative effects on the education system. In 1939 under the British government, Jamaica's financial input into education was only one eighth of what it needed to be (D'Oyley 1979). By taking over the responsibility for education but not willing to fund a stable system by which to educate, the Jamaican education system was left weak and unstable at the time of decolonization in the early 1960s. This lack of foundation is clearly responsible for the low quality, decentralized system that exists presently.
Not only was the British government not willing to financially support the system they established, but they also organized it in order to maximize the benefits for the colonizers. The 1867 Code, a document outlining various protocols of the education system, led to the implementation of vocational and agricultural schools (ibid). From the 1920s to the 1950s Jamaican education was
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"marked by a search for vocational training modalities that would be suited to the circumstances of a poor people who were becoming increasingly self conscious under a colonial government that was endeavoring to pressure the large sugar and banana plantations with their endless demand for cheap labour" (Ibid).
It is evident that the British government's interest in educating the Jamaican people was not to help them improve their society but rather to continue to serve as a resource to the economically superior Global North. An education system that finds its roots in training for a specific, exploitive purpose is not one that will lead to a developed society. The control of a country's education does not depend only on governmental policy but also on history.
Education as an Economic Tool for Development
It is not only common sense that more financed education will lead to a larger educated and skilled population, higher employment and a more rapid rate of development, but can be economically understood as well. There are two main arguments to how education and development have such an interactive effect on each other in Jamaica and the surrounding Caribbean. Firstly, the efficiency of the educational system is determined by the amount of human capital, teachers, available in the economy (Francis 2006). Secondly, it is argued that the poorer a country's economy is, the less education the government will be able to supply (Ibid). The combination of these two forces in the Jamaican economy leads to a decrease in the education supply and therefore a decrease, if not halt, in the rate of development. Indeed, the studies have shown that the lower a country ranks on the Human Development Index (HDI), the lower the enrollment in all levels of education will be and a greater percentage of their population will be living under the poverty line. In comparison to Bahamas, ranked forty-first on the HDI, Jamaica, ranked eight-sixth, has sixty-two percent enrollment rate and 34.2 percent of their population living under the poverty line while the Bahamas has a seventy-four percent enrollment rate and only twenty-two percent of its population below the poverty line (ibid). It is clear from these figures that in theory, a countries rank of the HDI corresponds to their educational success.
This, however, raises the question of whether maximizing education for development requires less accessible, higher quality education or more accessible education with a greater focus on reaching the masses than producing a fewer amount of people with greater skills. Improving education with the goal of development in mind is not as simple as increasing spending per capita on education (Ibid). Looking at Jamaica illustrates this point, as "improving the level of education appears to have failed to stimulate development. Educational systems in the Caribbean have not been adequately developed and tailored towards skills and knowledge needed for industrial growth and development" (Ibid). The goal of educating a country towards development cannot be solved by an economic equation. Higher quality education, with a focus on emerging economic sectors is more effective than giving basic education to the masses.
Current Measures Towards Improvement and Conclusions
It must not be thought that because of its neglected colonial past the Jamaican government does not presently value and work to enhance the education system. In December 2004, a task force was commissioned by the Jamaican government to publish a report on the next steps towards improving education island-wide (Jamaican Information Services 2004). The report's goal was to examine how, through education, Jamaicans "may become and remain a people with a competitive workforce and a people who are living in the kind of environment that we all seek to have and a quality of life benefitting a people with our traditions" (Ibid). The report specified that to ensure improvement of the overall quality of education that governance and management, curriculum teaching and support, stakeholder participation in the education system and financing all needed greater focus and attention from the government (Ibid). The report indicates that the Jamaican government is finally grasping the idea that the quality, not quantity, of education will lead the country to future development.
At the beginning of the essay education was identified as the foundation of development, a statement to which could be challenged. However, through the close examination of the Jamaican education system, it is seen that development and education can work hand in hand to improve the quality of life in a country. A quality education system will prepare citizens for employment in the new, technologically advanced global economy, a step that will contribute greatly to modernization. Education causes a ripple effect throughout a community and one student receiving quality education can have a positive impact on an entire nation's economy. With a stronger, more unified education system and with more government investment, Jamaica will be able to work through the obstacles caused by its colonial past and move towards becoming a more developed, functional society.
Clark, Nelson, Sharon Halliday, Garth Lipps, Gillian Lowe, Amerie Morris-Patterson and Rosemarie Wilson. 2010. "A Brief Report on the Association of Academic Tracking with Depressive Symptoms in High School Students in Jamaica" Journal of Black Psychology, 36:3:369-380. Retrieved January 11th 2011.
D'Oyley, Vincent and Reginald Murray. 1979. Development and Disillusion in Third World Education, with Emphasis on Jamaica. Toronto: The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Ferguson, Therese. 2008. " "Nature" and the "Environment" in Jamaica's Primary School Curriculum Guides" Environmental Education Research, 14:5:599-577. Retrieved January 16th 2011.
Francis, Brian and Sunday Iyare. 2006. "Education and Development in the Caribbean: a Cointegration and Causality Approach" Economics Bulletin, 15:2:1-13. Retrieved January 16th 2011.
Jamaica Information Services. 2004. "Cabinet to Receive Report of Education Task Force." Jamaica Information Services, December 7. Retrieved January 16th 2011.
United Nations. 2010. The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010. United Nations, New York.
United Nations Development Program. 2010. The Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development. Human Development Report 2010. United Nations, New York.
Whyte, Millicent. 1977. A Short History of Education in Jamaica. Bristol: Hodder and Stoughton.