The last three months have been almost totally preoccupied with political and financial matters. First, it was all about the bail-outs, then the debate about the electoral system followed by the spectacle of the elections themselves and the announcement and formation of the new government. In these circumstances, it is not hard to miss some of the more constructive and long-term actions that are being taken by people without any prompting from the government or corporate leaders. One such action has been that of the relatively recently formed Shortwood College Education Foundation in the announcement of one of its first projects, that of assisting the College to develop the infrastructure to support its degree programme in early childhood education.
This action is significant from several perspectives. First, in an era in which tertiary education must be significantly expanded and reformed if Jamaica is to face the challenges of the new economic order in the world, the teachers’ colleges must be transformed in two directions. They must be upgraded vertically to offer degrees and laterally to educate and train students for a wider range of occupations that teaching. The degree programme at Shortwood Teachers College is one step in this new direction.
Second, if the teachers’ colleges are to make this transition, and become first-rate institutions with respect to this new mission, more resources will be needed that can come from the coffers of the Government and student fees. The mechanism of a foundation provides the legal and institutional means by which past students, well-wishers of colleges and the public at large can contribute to the development of colleges in ways that ensure that their contributions are not simply used to make good shortfalls in Government subvention.
Third, a private foundation assisting the development of a Government-owned college represents a relationship with very few precedents in Jamaican or Caribbean educational history. Unlike Church and Trust owned colleges, Government-owned institutions have been hamstrung in the past. I recall that when Dr Simon Clarke was principal of the government-owned Sam Sharpe Teachers College, for some time Government rented the Pemco Hotel in Montego Bay to house students. From what I can gather, Dr Clarke utilising entrepreneurial skills in marketing that facility in the tourist city during the vacation periods earned enough money to make a substantial down payment on the purchase of the hotel, sufficient to allow the rent to pay a mortgage for the balance. Government bureaucracy prevented such an eminently feasible and sensible course of actions.
In forming its foundation, Shortwood seems to be charting its course around such backwardness. One can only hope that enlightened thinking within the Government will cut them some slack to develop the concept of partnership which is so much a part of policy these days but which still has much to be done in actual implementation.
Shortwood College is one of our premier tertiary institutions. The college has a reputation and history of maintaining high standards in teacher preparation. It has been ably lead over the years. The present principal, Mrs. Norma Darlington, is indeed a worthy successor to the very able and adroit Marjorie Myers. Shortwood College and its Foundation deserves every support from past students, friends of the college, private enterprise and the public at large in marshalling resources that will enable the institution to effect the transformation that must take place if the country is to meet the challenges of higher educational standards demanded by the world in which we now live.
Sustaining the long-term future of the country depends on how effectively we begin the education of our children at the early childhood level. The efforts of the Shortwood Foundation show vision and foresight.
February 17, 1998