Clarke eyes greater gov’t pre-primary spend, means-based financing of tertiary education | Lead Stories

With administrators continuing to be on the edge of their seats, to see whether there will be a surge in teacher migration come August, Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, has reiterated that Jamaica spends the second highest on education among Caribbean territories.

While speaking at the closing ceremony for the week-long Caribbean Union of Teachers’ (CUT) 41st Biennial Conference, which was held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Friday, Clarke referred to the World Bank’s and UNICEF’s Public Expenditure Review of the Education Sector in Jamaica 2021, which stated that in 2019 education in Jamaica received 5.2 per cent of GDP and 19 per cent of all government spending.

Clarke said this 5.2 per cent, which Jamaica spent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on education, compares with 4.9 per cent in the Caribbean as a whole.

He further said that the 19-per-cent of government expenditure in Jamaica, which is allocated to education compares with 15 per cent for the Caribbean and was justified by the way the government spends on education.

“Of the amount that Jamaica spends on education … we spend the second-most in the Caribbean region of our expenditure on education and on the teaching profession; 76 per cent of education expenditure is on teacher salaries in Jamaica. The only other country that spends more is St Lucia, where it’s at 84 per cent on education expenditure,” Clarke said.

“One interesting analysis coming out of that review is … when you dig further and you look further on spending per capita, and spending per student as a percentage of GDP per capita … What you find is that in Jamaica at the pre-primary level, we are spending seven per cent of our capita GDP per child versus 13 per cent in countries of the Caribbean,” he said.

Clarke said that, as a percentage of per capita GDP, Jamaica was spending far less per student at the pre-primary level than the rest of the Caribbean region, but when it comes to tertiary-level education, Jamaica spent 35 per cent.

“We spend per student at the tertiary level and among that represents 35 per cent of our per capita GDP and that compares to the rest of the region, that spends per student at the tertiary level 22 per cent of their per capita GDP,” he said.

“In seeing how the funding is allocated, what the data suggests, which accords with the qualitative analysis, is that we are underspending at the pre-primary level, which educators say is the more important level, and … I must be careful with how I say this, on a relative basis, overspending at the tertiary level where the returns on education, mostly private, [and] the returns on education at the pre-primary level are public, because the society benefits from most people having a basic level education,” Clarke said.

“There is a public good to pre-primary spending, whereas at the tertiary level, the gains on education are mostly personal. I mean, ‘It helps me gain a better salary’ and the challenge that we are going to have as a region is to, over the next era, is not only to spend more, but to spend what we spend better, and to spend what we spend better, it will require increasing expenditure for public pre-primary education and ensuring that we have means-based financing of tertiary level expenditure, but that is not an easy thing, nor is it something that can be done without the support of organisations, such as the organisation represented here today,” he said.

With there being 23 delegations represented from the different Caribbean territories present at the CUT Biennial Conference, Clarke also focused on the reality of the islands being less capable of offering more attractive salaries to teachers than first-world countries do.

“Given that we are in a world where human capital is critically important to development, how do small island states compete for human capital and when the competition is so intent on getting the best human capital they can find in the world?” he questioned.

“For us to achieve the vision that we have for the Caribbean region, we’re going to have to ensure that our teachers, or let me put it the other way around, that our governments are aligned with the teaching profession,” he said.

‘Much work to be done’

Earlier, however, La Sonja Harrison, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association, said she still believed education needs to be more prioritised by the government.

“We have gotten many things right. However, there is much work to be done,” Harrison said during her address, which preceded Clarke’s.

“Overall, education needs to be prioritised by all governments. The level of funding the sector receives is indicative of this lack. Since the call by Education International to go public, fund education. In his address at the recently concluded ninth EI Congress, general secretary David Edwards posited that our global campaign to fund public education and the teaching profession is a fight for investment in the public sector and new social contract focused on value of collecting and employing the people’s money for the public good. In Jamaica, we certainly await the articulated philosophy that will guide the process of us getting education right here, as well across the region. Teachers are positively expectant of anomalies to be fixed,” she said.

Harrison said that, in relation to the recent agreement on the implementation of the compensation review, a meeting has been scheduled that they are awaiting to have these conversations.

“Fixing these issues will certainly communicate to Jamaican teachers that we are indeed the priority of the society. Similar challenges abound throughout the region. We call on our political directorate to prioritise teachers who are critical to the process of revolutionizing education, producing a work force that is globally relevant. We have gotten man,” she said.

This year’s CUT 41st biennial conference was held last week and guided by the theme ‘Getting it Right: Revolutionizing Education, Prioritizing Teachers’. The event began last Monday with a women’s conference focused on the challenges of female educators in the classrooms, an opening ceremony with an address by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, a former education himself, and the days following had guest speakers from various parts of the education fraternity in the Caribbean.

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