Good afternoon — Happy New Year,
As a former teacher, principal and Board Chair, it is a pleasure for me to be sharing some thoughts with you this afternoon, in the capacity as your guest speaker. I deem this conference, focused on change and empowerment of communities, as extremely relevant because there is an inextricable link between education, viable communities and a flourishing nation.
I commend the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica (CCCJ) for convening this annual conference which has garnered international appeal, as it seeks to help strengthen the operations and functions of member Colleges. I notice that in recent years you have been tapping into international capital, by forging linkages with global stakeholders; clearly demonstrating your understanding and appreciation of the need for collaboration and cooperation in a rapidly changing global environment with shrinking borders.
THE VALUE OF EDUCATION
At the risk of sounding a bit trite and speaking to the choir, I will say something about the value of education:
You will agree with me that ‘Education is a priceless gift’.
There is an old American Proverb which says that: ‘Education is a gift that none can take away.’
Through education, many persons have been propelled from poverty and obscurity to fame and influence.
Community Colleges exist, and we are here this afternoon, because we are all convinced of the value of education and the role they play in the process.
We know and agree that education:
· Prepares individuals for life.
· Unlocks the door to freedom.
· Helps in the formation of character, and
· Teaches persons to think intensively and critically.
One of the best summaries of education I have read is from Ellen White, who in the book Child Guidance says:
‘True education means more than taking a certain course of study. It is broad!
It includes the harmonious development of all the physical powers and the mental faculties.
It teaches one the love and fear of God and is a preparation for the faithful discharge of life’s duties.’ (p. 293).
In celebrating the IUC’s 10 years of existence in North Middlesex, Jamaica, under the theme, ‘Education That Lasts Forever’, the Pro Chancellor stridently observed that, “it was education that provided the escape route from poverty and hopelessness for many of today’s successful people. And for every country recording impressive economic performance, education has been a major contributor to its success.”
However, as a driver of, and pre-condition for rapid human development, education must be of high quality, relevant, applicable, affordable and accessible to all.
You and I know that “Education is an expensive commodity. But the cost is the price to be paid for survival and development, especially at this time when our world is changing at such a fast pace, thanks to ever-advancing technology.”
Educational institutions such as Community Colleges must therefore prepare students to compete on a global scale now and in the future, which future is now.
“To be productive and equipped to take advantage of opportunities available globally, countries such as ours must keep up with the times in areas such as Information Technology. We cannot be in kindergarten when our competitors are producing at mastery level”.
The rapid advances in science and technology in the world, over the past two decades has been phenomenal. At no time in human history has any discipline made such a formidable impact on the way we live and move. Every facet of development, indeed of human existence on earth, is influenced or determined by the application of science and technology. Every student graduating from our community colleges must achieve more than a basic understanding of the role and application of science and technology to life and living.
In a conversation with Dr. Winston Davidson of the Bureau of Standards, I have been advised that every scientific principle no matter how complex it may seem to be, can be explained in such a way as to be understood by even a child. What then is the problem, why our science, technology and mathematics literacy is assessed to be so low? Apparently, we will have to review the approaches to training instructors/teachers, and ensure that the institutions, not only teacher training, but the schools and colleges also are adequately resourced.
Ladies and gentlemen, the dawning of the digital era, highlighted by the birth of the computer and internet, is an extraordinary transformation. I would say phenomenon. The computer and the internet have impacted at a phenomenal pace how we do business. It even redefines how we behave socially.
A small cell phone in the palm of the hand has brought far-reaching changes. That cell phone, by the touch of a finger, can revolutionize the global landscape. It is believed that in 1984 there were only 1,000 internet devices globally, but today there are more than 1.3 billion active users on Facebook alone. Which naturally means that if Facebook were a country it would have the second largest population behind China and ahead of India.
Research has shown that schools are currently preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist, to use technology that have not yet been invented and to solve problems we do not yet know. They therefore must develop the requisite skills for such tasks. It is therefore imperative that we come to terms with the explosion of knowledge in the dramatically expanding new world of the high- tech culture.
“For countries such as ours it is no easy task to be moving forward with education while the ground is shifting beneath our feet, and we are grappling with economic challenges.
It is no easy task, but we have to do it”
Despite the advances in communication technology and the opportunities they offer for employment and entrepreneurship, our youth still have to be undergirded by strong morals and good attitude. The values and lessons we teach therefore must indelibly impact their lives. And Community Colleges are well suited to transmit such imperatives.
COMMUNITY COLLEGES IN JAMAICA
An article written by CCCJ Former Executive Director, Cebert Adamson, states that: “enrolment in community colleges between 2010 and 2012 increased by approximately 18 per cent” and further he postulated that “every dollar invested in community colleges eventually returns more to the economy in tax dollars and new opportunities.” I have to agree with him.
This is evident in the number of graduates who are employed upon completion of their programmes of study; the number who are reportedly promoted on the job; and many who migrate to fill job opportunities overseas. It is observed, quite interestingly, that workers often go to community colleges to retool for job improvement and to be more competitive in the current job market. Others enroll to seek new job skills.
In fact, growth areas like hospitality, tourism and entertainment, nursing, teacher education, business and information technology rely on community colleges to supply qualified workers to meet the growing needs and changes in the market.
COMMUNITY COLLEGES AND THE ECONOMY
Mr. Chairman, Ladies and gentlemen, I think your theme: LEADING CHANGE! EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES! is very relevant and timely in this fast shifting global environment. It is the totality of the welfare of communities which will determine the wellbeing of our country and through engagements in conferences like these the real issues that will effect changes at the community level should be articulated.
Consistent with the Jamaican situation, research done by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, USA, shows that by 2020, 65 percent of all American jobs will require some form of post-secondary degree or credential, but the current rate at which universities are awarding them will fall short by roughly 5 million. Businesses and policymakers are therefore, increasingly turning to community colleges to help fill these workforce gaps. Therefore, I take the opportunity today to encourage you to intensify your recruitment efforts by finding innovative ways to promote the dynamic academic, vocational and entrepreneurial offerings of community colleges.
The courses and programmes of study available at CCCJ member institutions should have the requisite accreditation / or certification making them viable career options, and allowing for smooth and trouble – free assimilation into the world of work. A significant responsibility of the leadership of the CCCJ member colleges must be to uphold the standards of ‘work-force ready’ graduates, by ensuring that the student populations develop the culture of excellence and by being critical thinkers and problem solvers.
This has to be so because:
· The changing landscape increasingly places a premium on the capacity for innovative responses.
· Or the capacity to be flexible, and to think outside the box, which is an important requirement for advancement.
So the point is well made that, the purpose of learning, is to train the youth to be thinkers and not mere reflectors of other people’s thoughts. To allow them to contemplate for themselves the great facts of duty and destiny. It is important that our people understand and agree, that the way to be empowered to achieve their fullest potential, is through a world-class education and training system.
Commendably, there are colleges, within your cluster, that are intensifying and solidifying the relationship with their immediate communities through entrepreneurship training, agriculture, social work, criminal justice training and preparing the local citizens for tapping into the burgeoning opportunities of the emerging technology environment.
In closing let me assert that the contribution of community colleges has been and will continue to be a major factor in the reduction of poverty and in addressing a range of social ills, which accrue from the dehumanizing experience of unemployment. Young people should take every advantage of the low tuition fees paid for obtaining accredited certificates, diplomas, associate degrees and even bachelor programmes from the CCCJ member Colleges.
I must applaud the CCCJ’s influence which is extended to community colleges in the Turks and Caicos and Anguilla through the rendering of quality assurance guidance through the franchising of your programmes and standard of delivery.
Remember, we cannot deal effectively with tomorrow’s problems using yesterday’s tools.
We need the best that you have to offer especially at this time.
Finally, I hope your deliberations at this conference will make contacts and forge sustainable links which will aid the cross fertilization of ideas and strengthen bonds, in order to generate deeper and broader information flow for the future.