JTA Annual Conference 1997

Mr. President and colleagues, you have afforded me a signal honour twice over. First, it is a signal honour to be asked to address this Annual Conference of the Jamaica Teachers Association as the keynote speaker. Second, it is a signal honour to be doing so for the second time. The first occasion was in 1973. In contemplating this second opportunity I have dismissed as unlikely the possibility that the first occasion was so good that you decided to have me yet again. The lapse of 24 years is sufficient evidence that this is not the case. A more likely possibility is that the first effort was so abysmal that those in the Association possessed of great charity and long memories prevailed in convincing the others to give me second chance. Yet another possibility is that the first occasion was so innocuous that it was roundly forgotten as it has never happened, hence the second opportunity. I take refuge in the song which assures us that things are better the second time around.


The Theme Quality Education: An Investment in Human Potential present a formidable challenge in interpretation. In seeking to explore it possible meanings I decided to consult the dictionary as a starting point. In the process I discovered that the dictionary meanings of the key words in the theme underscore the formidable challenge involved in the task of interpreting the Theme.

Quality is defined in terms of essential character or superiority of kind. Investment has several possible meanings. These include: the commitment of capital with the hope of financial gain; endowment with authority or power; being clothed or adorned; and being endowed with an enveloping or pervasive. quality. Potential means capability or power or coming into being. It can also mean the inherent ability or capacity to grow or to develop, or capable of being but not yet in existence.

One interpretation of the Theme could be that education of a superior kind is a sound investment of capital that will bring good financial returns in the future. Adam Smith in his famous book “An Inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations” asserted in his opening paragraphs that human effort lies at the root of all wealth. Human capital theory postulates that individuals and society derive economic benefits from investments in people. Although types of human capital investments include health and nutrition, education has consistently been recognised as the prime investment in human capital. Thousands of empirical studies have been done on investment in education and particularly on the rates of return on investment in primary, secondary, and tertiary education and on-the-job-training. Since 1971 five Nobel Prizes have been awarded to economists in or affiliated with the field of human capital theory who have linked investment in education with aspects of economic production.

This interpretation of the Theme has been so well documented as is so well known that it represents a road well travelled. I assume therefore that you do not expect me to give more that passing recognition to this interpretation of the theme.

Another interpretation, by way of a literal paraphrase of the meanings of the key words, is that education of a superior kind envelops persons with a pervasive quality in their capacity to grow and develop. Put another way quality education adorns its partakers with a pervasive capacity to realise their potential in whatever areas they chose. In other words, quality education is a key factor in human development.

Indeed, this interpretation is well known and accepted among education. The only type of education worthy of the name education is quality education. This kind of education clothes and adorns its recipients with a quality that not only endures for life but singles them out under almost all circumstances. Quality education adorns its recipients with a pervasive quality of mind, outlook, spirit, social understanding, and self knowledge which is evident in all aspects of their development. It is what is left with individuals when they have forgotten all they ever learned in school. If economists know the importance of investment in education to economic well being and wealth creation, educators are equally knowledgeable about the education that results in personal development. This is another road that is so well travelled in education circles that I seriously doubt that you would have expected me to come to this conference and recite that which is so well known.


The interpretation that appears more challenging, and represents a road less travelled, is that education of a superior kind endows its partakers with authority and power to bring into being that which is possible but does not yet exist. What is highlighted is the creative, redemptive and transforming character and nature of education of a particular kind. It is in this light that I wish to explore the Theme of Quality Education: An Investment in Human Potential.

Notice immediately that the creative, redemptive and transforming character of superior education is without purpose. That is, it is of an instrumental nature. From this perspective, the essential capacity and feature of superior education is its capacity to empower its partakers with the ability to bring that which is possible into being. However, there is no identification or specification of that which is possible or should be brought into being. Authority and power are endowed by quality education and with it, the capacity to create, redeem and transform without specification of the purpose for which this instrumental capacity should be employed. The implicit assumption is that purpose should be developed elsewhere.

In simple terms, the Theme being explored can be interpreted in such a manner that it answers the question, to what end should Quality education endow human potential? Quality Education: An Investment in Human Potential, for what? What should this kind of education bring into being in human society? Already we have seen that the Theme can be interpreted in terms of economics and human capital formation or for the purpose of personal development. But our economic and personal ends the only ones that quality education should serve? The answer to this question seems clear. Quality Education is an investment in human potential that can serve more that economic and personal ends, but those other purposes are dictated by circumstances: choice and will.

In exploring this more general character of quality education it is necessary to discuss it in relation to some particular circumstance, to apply it to some choices we have made and where it is possible for will to be exercised.


What is it that education, that is really worthy of the name education, should be employed to bring into existence? What is it that is possible but does not yet exist that education of a superior kind should endow?

I wish to suggest three purposes that quality education should be directed to serve in contemporary Jamaica:

  1. To transform power and authority in the country.
  2. To create justice for all.
  3. To create as sense of destiny as a people.

Each requires some brief elaboration.

  1. Transforming Authority and Power in the Country.

According to the late M. G. Smith, Caribbean societies were established by the forced association of radically unequal groups of European masters and African slaves. After more that three centuries these societies can now be characterised into two main groups: societies that are modally biracial in which blacks, browns and whites form the main social segments and societies that in addition include populations of other racial and cultural groups, such as East Indians, Mestizos, Javanese, Amerindians, Syrians, Lebanese and Chinese. Besides differences of language, religion, kinship, family patterns and culture these hierarchically ranked pluralities differ also in aggregate and average wealth, occupation, education, numbers, history and external affiliation.

Smith maintained that Caribbean societies, including Jamaica, are plural societies. He further maintained that in a plural society it is force that keeps the separate cultural sections together, and that the state is little more than a committee of the dominant cultural elite and that the state is the ultimate instrument of internal domination and corporate control of the subject sections. Removal of force in a plural society would inevitably lead to the disintegration of the state and to social disorder.

While 159 years have passed since emancipation and 35 years since independence, the Jamaican society still consists of Jamaican citizens of forced association and unequal social segments. The police, maintained as a paramilitary force, and the army are still critical to any semblance of order in the society. Power and authority is still perceived as self-serving and wedded to narrow sectional interests. The new element is that benefits are no longer distributed based on race and colour but rather based on political allegiance and affiliation. Accordingly, authority and power are still suspected, disrespected, undermined and resisted wherever and whenever the opportunity arises.

  • Nationalism is wearing thin.
  • Authority and power suffer from huge deficits in integrity as they appear to be based on raw force or the control of state machinery rather than on any set of ideals and ideas which unify the people.
  • The daily taking of life in endless cycles of recrimination testifies to the breakdown in authority and any sense of society wide justice.
  • Everybody is suspected of ulterior motives.
  • Everybody is expected to line up behind the two political parties in order to receive benefits or protection.

Current examples are the issue of international observers and electoral reform in preparation for the next general elections. The arguments advanced against international observers by the governing PNP are:

  1. Jamaica is not in the category of countries in which democracy is being established or is at risk.
  2. Reliance on the external imposition of correct political behaviour.
  3. An indictment on our ability to manage our own affairs.
  4. Display lack of trust in the capability of ourselves.

While there are several valid points in this argument, there are several flaws that cannot be overlooked.

  1. It used to be just one or two constituencies in which there were voting irregularities, then it went to about five. In the last elections, the Electoral Advisory Committee declared that elections were not free and fair in 13 constituencies. Should we wait until cancer spreads before correcting the situation?
  2. We have gone for a foreign governor of the Bank of Jamaica; a foreign firm for the Revenue Protection Unit; foreign nurses, and even foreign gravel. Why not international observers? Without the statement and application of a principle and change in practice, the objection on reliance on our own seems convenient.
  3. Having benefited from most skulduggery in last elections objections seems self-serving.

The case for international observed by the opposition Jamaica Labour Party is based on the arguments that:

  1. Widespread fraud in the last elections
  2. International observers will act as a restraint and prevent recurrence.
  3. Done in other areas why not elections?

Flaws in the arguments are

  1. They offer nothing new but merely extends a bankrupt policy of not relying on our selves.
  2. The JLP does not come with clean hands. The party also engaged in fraud in the last elections.
  3. If thugs ignored the church and others observing the last elections why would they not do the same with international observers it their actions will accomplish the results they want?

There are questions that must be asked of both the PNP and the JLP. What are they doing to prevent their thugs from repeating their fraud in the next elections? After the last elections, the independent members of the EAC were made the scapegoats of the outrageous happening but neither party appeared to have applied any discipline to the people who actually committed the fraud on behalf of both parties. The entire country has been treated like criminals in the new enumeration process but the leadership of the parties has been silent about any action they are taking within their own structures to ensure free and fair elections. Both parties need to tell the country what they are doing within their ranks and among their members to ensure that no wronging doing is done in their name. Moreover:

  • Decent people within both parties must reclaim their parties from the thugs and the thieves. The leadership of both parties appear to have become hostages to these elements and need to be released by the uncompromising demands of the large numbers of law-abiding and decent people that comprise their membership. If decent people and the leadership of the JLP and the PNP continue to be apologists and defenders of these elements, then we will sink into the quagmire of election vulgarities.
  • What these elements of both parties display are absolute contempt for the rest of the society. They insist on having things their way no matter what. It is the pursuit of self-interest regardless of the will of others or the consequences that is driving this country into the hard economic as well as political times.
  • It is time for decent people to insist that the political parties fall in line in upholding moral and legal standards of instead of falling in line behind the political parties in their apologies for wronging doing and in their impotence to discipline and restrain their lawless elements.
  • Teachers and schools need to take on the mission of establishing authority and power that is beholden to law, committed to justice, acts with regard to the common and communal good and respects the rights of others.
  1. Establishing Justice for All.
  • Justice is at a premium in the society in our every day dealing with each other.
  • Observe driving on the road daily, the disregard for lines and the first come first serve principle.
  • Justice appears to have become a prisoner of the law and legal system. If you are poor, you are in trouble before the law.
  • The strength of the strong and the power of the powerful are used to walk over the weak physically, economically, financially, socially and politically. A jungle mentality of survival of the fittest prevails.
  • Schools, education and teachers through ideology and daily practice must routinely place priority on fairness, impartially and justice and be fearless in their adherence to these values.
  1. Destiny as a People.
  • Diverse origin, background and composition.
  • Independence with for a purpose.
  • Non-white country in a world in which racism is again rampant.
  • Need to see ourselves in the mainstream of human history and advancement.
  • Need to through off the yoke of inferiority that has been placed on us historically.
  • Need to support and side with the constructive and creative efforts being made in our midst.


In what circumstances will Quality Education will endow its recipients to bring into being that which is possible but does not yet exist? The answer is clear. It is where schools and education are faced with ugliness but foster and nurture the beautiful.

  • accused of questionable motives but maintain nobility of purpose.
  • confronted with negativism but promote the positive.
  • set back by evil but embrace the good.
  • suffer from wrong but uphold the right.