As a rural beneficiary of some free education at high school and teachers’ college which included tuition, boarding and food, and then some university tuition, I listened to the debate about free education and health care and especially to those who say it is not possible while others say it should not be. In my time it was considered by all to have been a most enlightened idea instituted by the then prime Minister Michael Manley.
This got the People’s National Party (PNP) many loyalties and votes. Today the PNP and the country are still reaping some of the benefits from families of and those who were educated or started their education during the 1970s into the late 80s.
Many of those sprung from the bowels of the working class and rural marginalized people who needed no hand outs and just needed an opportunity, which they got, seemed to have forgotten all that and are today opposing everything from free education to free health care.
Free education facilitated many by giving them socio-economic wings to fly making themselves persons of worth while contributing to the development and maintenance of the jamaican society. That era of free education was responsible for significant upward social mobility changing the face of many sectors and professions. We should not have stopped that progress or changed that course.
Fields like medicine, law, banking, business studies, engineering to name a few, were dominated by and became literally the reserve of the wealthy upper and middle classes. Free tuition or adequate and easily available funding up to university will ensure the continued upward mobility of the under classes. To stop at the high School level could stop that progress and turn back the hands of time while creating a new elite derived from the wealthier families who are able to access higher education locally or overseas.
Persons opposing the idea of free education or free health are possibly misguided, ‘bad mind’, corrupt, intellectually dishonest, just wicked or do not want anyone else “fi buss out” (to progress) thus maintaining the status quo and be the new Backra Massa (masters)of the rest of us.
What we should be doing as a nation is to find ways and means to make free Education a reality from bottom to top or make students loans more accessible and less cumbersome by removing the multilayered bureaucracy including the physical appearance of guarantors at the offices of the Students’ Loan Bureau.Once students qualify they should obtain loans for the entirety of their courses during which time there is a moratorium on interest. Not having to reapply every year and clogging up the system, creating misery and crowding the bureau’s offices could reduce even the cost of running the bureau.
The Minister of Finance Audley Shaw, the Prime Minister O. Bruce Golding, the opposition, the government and the bureau should look at how it worked in the 1980s, seek adequate financing, lower the interest rates and improve on that to make it better in the national interest . As a matter of fact socialist and capitalist ideologues should be reminded that education and health comprise the bedrock in the destruction of class domination and poverty and can only be achieved on the basis of a totality of knowledge, with an educated and a healthy able-bodied population.
Michael Spence, Kingston, Jamaica