Author: Errol Miller
The Ministry of Education Youth and Culture is to be congratulated for mounting the three-day Exposition on Education at the National Arena. It gave an opportunity for the public to get some idea what is happening within education as well as to appreciate the enormous talents of our students and teachers. Equally important it gave teachers and others within the education sector the opportunity to become more aware and informed about what was happening in other segments of the system other than their own.
For different reasons, I attended the Exposition on each of the three days. On the last day, one of our highly respected retired principals of a teacher college said to me that while she was impressed with several aspects of the display, she could not discern a unifying theme or a single message, that was being conveyed. On reflection on her observation it came to me that the Exposition was not organised along the lines of a gourmet meal, based on some particular cuisine which gave it a unifying taste, or theme, from appetiser through the soup, to fish course, to entree, to cheese and wine, to the desert and finally to the liqueur. Rather, it was organized more on the principle of cafeteria dining. The taste and theme depended on what you put on your tray as you went through the line of exhibits.
Things that have stayed with me have no theme. They are:
- The “Chat Room” set out to answer questions about the IBD Primary Education Project.
- The solo dance, “All in the Mind”, done at the Opening Ceremony.
- The young man who came to asked me why should he be excluded from being trained as a teacher, on a part-time basis, because he was not currently employed in a school.
- The presence of the Minister and the top officers, on all three days, and their availability to the public to answer their questions.
It was interesting to hear the responses and reactions of people as they viewed the various exhibits. The most common response was that of surprise. The main areas of surprise centred around the talent demonstrated in the various presentations and developments within various segments of the system. What was on display was much of the best that exists within education at moment. What was not there was most of its problems that lay hidden away in depressed urban communities and remote rural areas. But, understandably, the exhibition was showcasing the best and this certainly has its place in any scheme of things.
At the opening ceremony the claim was made that this was the first ever Education Exposition. There is strong historical evidence to suggest that this is not the case. My colleague in the Institute of Education, Dr Ruby King, in one of her research papers, recorded that Jamaica participated in the International Congress on Education and its exhibition in 1884. Between 30 to 40 elementary schools exhibited in New Orleans, where the Exhibition was held. Moreover, the Jamaican exhibits were awarded a Diploma of Honour in recognition of their high quality.
Following that success Jamaica was “one of the civilised countries of the world” invited to the International Congress on Education and the Columbian World Exhibition in Education held in Chicago in 1893. In recognition of the esteem enjoyed by Jamaican education at that time the Superintendent Inspector of Schools Mr Thomas Capper was elected as one of the Honorary Vice Presidents of the Congress in Supervision and Messrs George Hicks and J. R. Williams were elected honorary Vice Presidents in Elementary Education. In both instances, it would appear that the Jamaican exhibits to these international expositions were selected from local efforts and therefore were displayed in Jamaica as well as aboard.
I draw attention to this historical reference because in many instances we have isolated ourselves in the present by assuming that we are doing things for the first time. By this process we make no connections with our past and in many instances we are confused in our conception of the future. Moreover, we hold on to many myths, of one which is that Jamaica is and has been a backward Third World country because most of our people are illiterate. We believe this myth to our peril.
June 9, 1997.