Sunday, March 11, 2012

Jamaica Education Then and Now

There is nothing Jamaicans love to talk about when they get together than the Socioeconomic and political state of the country, ...well except their past Primary and High School experiences. The glory days when we had not a care in the world, fun was our mission and the mission was fun. For the most part the person we are today was shaped by the schools we use to attend and the friends we use to hang out with coupled with the type of education system that existed in those days. A system that instilled pride in who we are and what we are about. A system that not only gives us a sense of the world we live in but who we are in relation to that world, who we are as Jamaicans, our goals in life, our responsibilities towards our country, ourselves and our fellow man. We were told that we are our brothers keeper.

If the current generation was supposed to learn from the past generation, inherit our fine qualities then why is our country in the state that it is in today and continues to head in the wrong direction. Where did we go wrong as a people, why was there a disconnect from the values of the past and today’s generation.

We were very competitive when I was growing up but that competition was not based on material possessions. We had no video games and most of our entertainers operated with a certain moral code, they had no bling and could only sell themselves using raw talent. Back in the days we took pride consuming local made products since we had not developed this barrel mentality you see today. The same mentality that ultimately destroyed our manufacturing base. If you wanted a pair of trousers you either bought it directly from a store, who sourced it from local manufactures or buy yourself some pants lengths (cloth) and take it to the tailor, who would measure you and build it, custom made, a “win win” situation for Jamaica and did I mention Custom made, these days people would pay lots of money for custom made products.

In school our competition was based mainly on accomplishments, even in Primary school it was about whose ticky (a tick mark placed on your work by a teacher, if it was correct) was bigger, kids could be heard teasing each other about who got a bigger ticky. later on this competition was extended to grades. These days it seems to be all about blackberry, IPads, IPhone, Xboxes and various electronic gadgets whose yearly version number go up with their price. Back in the day our bling was a darkers (sunglasses), a pair of clarkes wallabees and your pants length, that's it you were now trashed out and ready for day fetes and Teen Jam at Tropics BUT NOT School.

In Jamaica then and now wearing a uniform to school is the norm, most boys wear a khaki shirt with a pair of epaulettes or a tie and khaki trousers, with brown or black shoes and socks unless you were in sixth form then you were allowed to wear a white shirt with a tie. Most girls would wear a blouse with pleated skirt or blouse with a tunic. There was nothing else we could wear to school unless we had a letter from our parents asking the school to excuse our non standard attire, you had to present this letter to every class you entered.

We had nothing else to show off with except our grades and our standard attire, how we presented ourselves gained value.We competed constantly trying to get a better grade than others in our class and we competed with how neat and clean our uniforms were. In primary school we even competed on how shiny we could get our desk. Bringing to school wood polish, a coconut brush and a cloth to clean and shine our desk and the classroom for maximum effect. When we could no longer compete with kids in our class we competed with kids in other classrooms and when we could no longer compete with kids in other classrooms, we competed with kids in other schools. At regular interval the entire school was let out to help clean up the school yard, students would sing out loud while they work to make the school clean and tidy ...

“Bits of paper … Lying on the ground ... Make the place untidy... Pick them up ... Pick them up ...”

I remember spending hours ironing my uniform trying to get the seam just right, so sharp and straight it could cut paper. Spraying the seams with various liquids then in slow motion pressing the hot iron into them. Our shoes so shiny it would be dangerous to look directly at it without protective eye wear and a white undershirt that glistened in the sun, was the only non standard part of the uniform we were allowed to wear. I remember watching my older sisters preparing their primary school uniforms they wore dark navy blue pleated skirt with navy blue bloomers and a very white blouse. Their uniforms would be washed and doubled starched before spending hours ironing their skirt pleat by pleat. Their black or brown shoes shined to military precision and finished with a black, brown or navy blue socks rolled neatly down to their ankles.

I will always remember my older sisters and their friends in high school, how neat and lady like they were, how they carried themselves meant a lot to them. How they stand, sit, walk and talk was very important, very lady like, a trait that is still with them to this very day. Various school badges were also allowed to be pinned to shirts or blouses. These we wore with pride, the school badge, the house badge, form caption and a prefect badges pinned on the left of your shirt, it was all very military. Jewelry was not allowed and would be confiscated for the rest of the school year, you were not even allowed to wear elastic bands.

We not only had pride in how we looked but we had pride in our school, we were aware of the fact that how we behaved on the street could reflect badly on our school and as such a conscious effort was made to remove all labels that would identify our school, if we were about to do something that would bring shame on our school or displayed proudly if we were about to do something that would bring great pride to ourselves and school. It was not uncommon for bigger students to publicly reprimand other students outside of the school yard. I remember sitting in the class room when a fellow student reported another student in my class for doing something that brought shame to the school, he and the principal searched every class room until he could identify the offending student, who was put on display during the next morning's assembly and disciplined.

All our schools are represented by an emblem, a flag, a school motto which could be in Latin, English, French or some other language depending on the history of the school. During morning assembly it was not uncommon to hear the singing of the school song, loud with pride for our sinister opposing school to hear because like Sherlock Holmes they are our Moriarty, our archenemy, we were batman and they were the Jokers. The morning assembly was held in a chapel or school hall, various issues were discussed, information provided or public discipline given and house point standing read out aloud followed by the Lord’s prayer, the national anthem and the school song. The members of the cadet would raise the national flag and the school flag sometimes. Emphasis was placed on pride, pride in one’s self and pride in one’s school and pride in one’s country. It was not uncommon to leave the chapel inspirited and ready for the day’s challenges.

Within our school we had Houses, when you start school for the first time you were assigned a house, each house have a colour, a house badge, an emblem, the names of the houses was sometimes taken from Greek mythology or English history. Various members of the student body along with one or two teachers were selected to sit on the house committee. On display in the common area was a score board, it showed the point standing of the various houses. Every student that belongs to a house could affect the point standing of that house. If you did something good, then the teacher might add points to your house and if you did something bad they could deduct points from your house. Every morning in assembly a report was announced on who caused points to be added or deducted and you were either congratulated by your fellow students or kicked up the bum for point deduction.

One minute you are walking along then all of a sudden someone shouted “Bum Him!!”, to which students grabbed your legs the others grabbed your arms and students from far and near would come over to kick you in the bum while bouncing you off the ground a number of times. Then you were dropped, discarded like yesterday's garbage, in shame and at times in pain. The house committee could negotiate with the school to organize events in order to earn extra points for your house, for example we would clean up the school yard or class rooms, put on a car wash and donate money to charity organizations or to the school. In school Merits, Demerits and Detentions was given out base on performance and behavior and they could affect your house point standing.

At the end of the school year we had a sports day, where houses compete in track and field events, during this competition supporters wear the house colour, wave the house flag and banter each other, we wrote songs and cheers, practiced these days before the main event then unload them against our opponents, singing as loud as we could to drown them out. Points won from the sports day would be added to the points accumulated throughout the school year to decide the winner, so your house could get the most points at the end of the Sports day but would still lose because the members of your house had a bad disciplinary record or did not do enough community service over the school year. It was in your vested interest to engage your fellow house members and prevent them from doing harm to the reputation of the house.

From intra-school competition to inter-school competition, schools competed with other schools to see who would be the Greatest School the world had ever seen. The now famous Boys and Girls Championship is a yearly event but back then they were separate events, The Boy Champs and The Girls Champs. We were let out early to attend the boy’s champs but had to sneak out early to attend the Girls champs, it was the yearly cat and mouse ritual between teachers and students with the latter trying to evade the gauntlet of teachers’ hell bent on keeping you in school and away from a stadium full of girls. When we got to girls champs we were like peacocks on display, extra neat uniforms with school badges, epaulets or ties and your T-Square if you had one, all on display for the girls to see. When you attend an all boy’s school you do not get a lot of chances to be around so many girls, so when you are in a stadium filled with girls from almost every girls high school from across the island it becomes very important that you are well presented because competition was very stiff, since boys from every other boys school was present and accounted for. Certain boys school and and girls school would also form pair bonds, brother and sister school in which case they would keep various events together.

Lets also not forget the annual school BBQ which was a family event as students were given tickets to sell to family and friends. For entertainment the BBQ committee would try to get a well known bands and invited entertainers would entertain the crowd.

High Schools in Jamaica also compete in a national general knowledge competition called School's Challenge Quiz and for your school to win this most valued prize was the pride and Joy of everyone who supported the school, this was an academic achievement for the entire school and we all made sure to be home on time each night to watch this event.

Some Yearly School Competition:
  • The Boys and Girls Championship (Track and Field)
  • School's Challenge Quiz (Knowledge Base Competition)
  • Manning Cup Football Competition (Football)
  • Walker Cup (Football)
  • Olivier Shield (Football)
  • daCosta Cup (Football)
  • Grace Shield Schoolboy Cricket Competition

My sisters attended The Queens High School for girls, (motto: Virtute et Sapientia Floreat - May she flourish in virtue and wisdom) so that was my main stomping ground, then there was St. Hugh's High School (Fidelitas- faithfulness) which my aunts and cousins attended over the years, not to mention Holy Childhood, St. Andrew High School, Immaculate High School, Alpha Academy all schools rich in history and tradition that everyone was proud off.

Small example of boy’s school:
  • Calabar High School(CBar), 1912, Motto: “The Utmost for the Highest, Colours: Green and Black” there was no rivalry bigger than KC and CBar,
  • Kingston College(KC), 1925, Motto: “The brave may fall but never yield”, Colours: Purple and White
  • Jamaica College(JC), (1789, Floreat Collegium, Fervet Opus in Campis, May the College Flourish, Work is Burning in the Fields
  • Wolmer’s High School, 1729, Age Quod Agis, The oldest school in the English speaking Caribbean

Small example of Coed schools:
  • Ardenne High School, 1927, Motto: “Deo Duce Quaere Optima, WITH GOD AS GUIDE, SEEK THE BEST, Colours: Blue and Gold
  • Campion College, 1960, Motto: Fortes In Fide et Opere, Steadfast in Faith and Good Work, Colour: Red and White

List of Schools in Jamaica

Just to name a few “Kingston” schools because in the rural areas we also had some powerhouse schools that rival any school in Kingston, for example Munro college, Manning's, Hampton High School. Most of our schools are great institutions, rich history and tradition with a proven track record in discipline, building the great men and women of our times. These schools created ladies and gentlemen, where respect, pride and a desire to achieve, to build a nation was the corner stone of their development.

Over time, some of these schools have lost their luster, their brilliance, no longer the movers and shakers of Jamaica’s education system like much of Jamaica they now perform mediocre and marginal while appealing to the lowest common denominator of our society, more likely to turn out Dancehall DJs than Doctors. What I dislike about the old boys association of some of these schools including my own, is their over emphasis on sports and not on academics, nine out of ten emails I get from this organization are emails requesting money to support sporting activities which is a direct reflection on society today trying to throw money and fix what is popular, not what is required. On my last visit to my high school I was surprised/shocked /dismayed to see the dilapidated state of the school, the louver windows was dirty, broken or missing, the desk and chairs broken or missing, the classrooms filthy, I do not understand where these kids sit when they come to school, the state of the class room was disgusting and the tools to aid learning broken or missing but I keep getting emails for money to support sports.

A Former Prime Minister of Jamaica and other high Government officials all attended my high school, including movers and shakers in Business and finance, Academia, the Clergy, Politics and law not to mention Sports, Arts and culture but yet the school continues to decline. In comparison a High school like Campion College just have to pick up the phone and several of their influential successful alumni /alumnae would build another wing or donate computers and supply furniture, the fundamentals of schools like Campion College is well in place. While Campion College does compete in all sporting events they do not see it as the beginning and end, that is not what is important to them, they lead this country on SAT scores and 98% of their graduates attend 4 year colleges and Universities. They are the top performing school in the Entire Caribbean both in CAPE and CSEC (pass rate 100%), they understand their purpose in life, their alumni understand the purpose of the school and the parents and parent teachers association understand the role they must play, everyone understands that the purpose of Campion College is to educate kids and prepare them for the future. There Alumni are the movers and shakers of Jamaica, taking their place in various halls of power from politics to finance to manufacturing.

However what every school, including our top performing schools fails to do is prepare our kids to be Jamaicans, nation builders. Our kids are prepared for life outside of Jamaica, our schools are staging ground for export, they leave school with little or no civic pride, no love for Jamaica as we no longer instill these values in them. We have for some time now stop teaching civics in school but our kids can tell you the local government structure of New York and London to great details, they know their rights under the American constitution and they live in Jamaica, they can recite every amendment to the American Constitution but knows next to nothing about their rights under the Jamaican constitution much less tell you what is in the Jamaican constitution or the structure of the Jamaican Government. At some point in our history we decided to devalue what it means to be a Jamaican and we tell our kids that Jamaica does not matter, that all they need is their passport and a visa, we tell our kids they must leave in order to make a life for themselves, most do just that and never return, the brain drain continues. I would really like to see a study done on what percentage of the exported ones actually return home to make a contribution to the Nation Building process. Most of our upper class Jamaicans who go abroad for school do return because they quickly realize that outside of Jamaica they are nothing, just another face in the crowd, nothing special and their advantage, lifestyle and specialness comes from being in Jamaica, as they say "ugly girls have uglier girls as friends because they stand out more".

Gordon Butch and other dignitaries 
break ground for the Campion College Jonathan Stewart Library Media Centre

The thing that bothers me about the education system today is that the pool of good schools is getting smaller and smaller as the educated class isolate just a handful of selected schools, cutting only a few from the heard, while turning their backs on the rest, allowing them to run wild, run free. They realized that they only need a hand full of good performing schools as staging ground for child export while leaving the others schools in the hands of the Political class who also only send their kids to the few selected schools. The Political Class cares nothing about the other schools, paying lip service to education as a way to get re-elected. Even the alumni associations that represents the failing schools do not send their kids to their old high school, as everyone is trying to get their kids into the hand full of selected special school.

Clovis Toons 


OK so you went to school and did everything that was asked of you. You studied hard and pass all your exams. Then you graduated High School with honors and did what every Jamaican child was engineered from birth to do and expected to do, you grab your passport, get a visa, migrated to the UK or the States and enrolled in a college. After 3+ years you now have a couple of letters behind your name, yup you now have a degree and one or two years work experience but now you are coming home to Jamaica to get a job based on your foreign qualification and engage the Nation Building Process. You created the best resume and started sending them out and …wait for it..... NOTHING, not even a response to say you did not get the job because that is not how we roll.

What you immediately find out is that the Jamaican society does not roll like any other societies, your resume and your degree means diddly squat in the scheme of things because it is about who you know, which circle you moved in, what high school you went to, who your father is and what connection he has. But you went to Wait-A-Bit District High school and now you are trying to get a Job from an upper St. Andrew person who stocked the entire company with his relatives and old school friends, what to do, what to do.. You either, stay and try to break down the door of opportunity barricaded by nepotism or move to Canada like everybody else from Wait-A-Bit District High school and any other obscure high school that is not in the Selected Circle. You are not in a position to drop name and you cannot make that all important phone calls all us Jamaicans have to make at one point or another. This is Jamaica's lost, turning our backs on good human resource but one's man reject is another man's pride and joy. I am not saying you will not get a job but that the process is made harder by nepotism.

Lets say you are heading to the bank to deposit or withdraw some money, how do you go about that then? Well you can do it like the plebs, walk into the bank and stand in the line of death, at the mercy of the teller and hope she does not put up that next window sign because it is lunch time and she must pick up the kids from school. OR from the comfort of your home, you pick up the phone and call the old school chum, the now manager of the Bank to inform him or her that you are on your way. Once you are outside the bank you make a quick call and you are met and shuffled into the office where you are able to conduct your business like civilized human beings, this is how we roll. Pretentious and consumed by our own self-importance.... excuse me, pardon me, important person coming through.. step aside.

Here is another scenario a Jamaican migrates, enrolled in college and got his or her degree, after the degree they then get a Job in a fortune 500 company. America's finest and worked there for a couple years but yard is calling you, you must return and you have massive plans. You have been working in a first world country, filled with first world experience and every molecule, every cell in your body in vibrating at a first world pace. You have a first world attitude towards work, on time, start early, finish late, eat on the go, meetings, plans, implementations, you are getting paid to do a job and will do it to the best of your abilities, in order to climb the corporate ladder.

You cannot wait to get back home and show those lazy locals how it’s done. Show them what is required for first world development, work, work and more work, discipline and dedication. So finally the day comes, you arrive in Jamaica and hit the ground running, everything must happen yesterday (frustration starts to set in), you have no time for this small island foolishness, no time to wait. You tell everyone that Jamaica needs more people like you and they all agree with you, nod and smile but day turns into weeks into months and years and over time each molecule, each cell in your body begins to move, vibrate to a different island beat…. “Ring the alarm another sound is dying ... by Tenor Saw”… comes to mind.

Jamaica is like a drug, you want to change it, crank it up a notch but it always end up changing you. You are trying to vibrate at a speed that is not consistent with the other people around you. Jamaica vibrates at one frequency and the first world vibrates at another, soon one molecule after another starts doing the rub-a-dub and before you know it you are in sync with the yard vibes and start to keep up the same almshouse you vowed to eradicate. You are now going to Hellshire beach on a Monday with your work colleagues for a lunch of Festival and fish, feeling the cool Caribbean breeze, sipping a Red Stripe and declaring that your boss in not paying you enough to get up in the mornings, so a 3 hour lunch is perfectly in order... Any way I digress....

So when did this disconnect between the old education system and the new education system take place and why did this disconnect happen?  Social scientists need to sit down and study the transformation that took place over the years, examine the state of the Jamaican mind, what change and why? I have made a few observations myself but the experts really do need to take a deeper look at our society and the fickle minds of the people.
"School systems in developing countries are being ransacked by teacher recruitment agencies to fill staff shortages in England. Jamaica is the latest to feel the effect. Last year 600 teachers left the island to work abroad, mostly in the USA and England. More have already gone this year. One high school head teacher told the BBC the recruitment raids amounted to "Rape and Pillage".

"British-Caribbean parents are choosing to send their children back to the West Indies for a more traditional education. In the second of our articles from Jamaica, we spoke to one such family and asked what more might be done to raise the achievement of black boys in British schools."

"Boys of African-Caribbean origin fare badly in England's schools - and are more likely to be excluded for bad behaviour. So some teachers, mostly white, went to Jamaica to learn how schools there do things."

Former Prime Minister's High School force to close because of rat infestation

Jamaica College

Immaculate High School Girls
Holy Childhood High School 


Jamaica's National Prayer
Let us give thanks for all God's goodness and the wonderful heritage into which we have entered:
Response to each petition: We give thee thanks, O God

For Jamaica, our island home, the land of our birth -

For the majesty of our hills, the beauty of our valleys, and the flaming loveliness of our gardens

For the warmth and brightness of our days and the calm and peace of our countryside

For the rich heritage of our people coming for many races, and yet one in purpose, in achievement, and in destiny, and for the dignity of labour and the service given by every citizen of our land

For freedom, just laws and our democratic way of life

For the high privilege and responsibility of Independence and for bringing us to nationhood

For our parents, teachers, religious and other leaders and all those who in every walk of life are helping to prepare us for responsible citizenship, and for all those who are giving voluntary service in the public interest

For the poets, artists and thinkers and all who create in us the vision of a new and better society

For our godly heritage, the example of Jesus Christ and the sacrifices of our fathers in the faith
National Pledge

Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.
National Song


I pledge my heart forever
To serve with humble pride
This shining homeland, ever
So long as earth abide.

I pledge my heart, this island
As God and faith shall live
My work, my strength, my love and
My loyalty to give.

O green isle of the Indies,
Jamaica, strong and free,
Our vows and loyal promises
O heartland, ‘tis to Thee.

The Jamaican National Anthem

Eternal Father, Bless our Land,
Guide us with thy mighty hand,
Keep us free from evil powers,
Be our light through countless hours,
To our leaders, great defender,
Grant true wisdom from above,
Justice, truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, land we love,
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love

Teach us true respect for all,
Stir response to duty's call,
Strengthen us the weak to cherish,
Give us vision lest we perish,
Knowledge send us Heavenly Father,
Grant true wisdom from above,
Justice, truth be ours forever,
Jamaica, land we love,
Jamaica, Jamaica, Jamaica, land we love


  1. That is the national song, not the national pledge. The pledge is below.

    Before God and all mankind, I pledge the love and loyalty of my heart, the wisdom and courage of my mind, the strength and vigour of my body in the service of my fellow citizens; I promise to stand up for Justice, Brotherhood and Peace, to work diligently and creatively, to think generously and honestly, so that Jamaica may, under God, increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity, and play her part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race.

  2. I loved this piece..was waiting on a solution to the problems that were mentioned. But, indeed this was a well thought out and put together piece. I have left the island as well and have severed almost all ties. I really have no interest in returning to a place that distressed and depressed me. Like you said only links count and I went to a no name high school.