Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the nation’s education system has lost its ability to provide “fine students” with the qualities employers are looking for.
He said his concern was exacerbated by the time lost during the coronavirus pandemic, which caused face-to-face classes to be suspended for more than a year.
“We would have lost a significant part of our education system in the absence of face-to-face – the interpersonal [element]”Holness said during remarks at the annual Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) scholarship ceremony on Friday at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.
Five students received full scholarships and eight scholarships, chosen from a panel of 300 students who submitted applications.
Holness said that, according to his observation, the education system was doing “fairly well” in providing students with the required grades, but that the soft skills needed to carry out socio-emotional development were lacking.
“This, our education system has not worked and has not for some time,” he said.
Referring to the JLP scholarship committee interviews conducted among shortlisted applicants, Holness said it had become apparent that there were high potential students who excel academically but lack a quality that, according to him, was difficult to define.
He said that this lack of quality is a result of the fact that the current configuration of the education system does not require it.
STUDENTS LACK EXPOSURE
“A lot of our students lack exposure,” he noted.
He said that having students compete for scholarships can serve to plug this hole in the system.
“By just going through this interview process, students would develop these soft skills, as they need them to cope.
“The truth is, employers tell you this all the time: they get the grades from the students, but they just don’t have the soft skills to deal with the work environment,” Holness said.
Concerns have long been expressed about the education system and its inability to adequately prepare the country’s workforce for the rapidly changing demands associated with the future of work.
Holness said that while some parts of the system facilitate this process well, a larger part do not, noting that this needs to be addressed if the education system is to be transformed as the current system lacks graduates.
In May of this year, Education Minister Fayval Williams reported that 120,000 students were absent from classes in the past academic year as education became available primarily online due to the pandemic.
Jasford Gabriel, then president of the Jamaica Teachers Association, said the country’s youth will not recover from the learning loss anytime soon.