Let us revisit the issue of the scourge of functional illiteracy plaguing the nation today, and the change in educational policy that will result in Jamaica being able to attract more foreign direct investment. Many of you know me well enough to have heard about my letters to both the Founder and the CEO of Intel inviting them to invest in Jamaica the next time they were looking for a place to set-up operations outside Malaysia. I did this because I was a little jealous of the people of Costa Rica who had managed to attract Intel, the firm that makes the microchips that power most people’s computers.
Why would anyone want to set up shop in Costa Rica? Just ask Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucent Technologies, just three of the firms who had invested heavily in the country even before Intel set up the fourth largest chip-making operation in the world there.
Believe it or not, someone from Intel’s management actually wrote back to me! He explained that before they could even consider looking at a country like Jamaica they would need to see some upgrading in our human resources – more persons doing science and technology in school. I don’t blame them, microchip building doesn’t require degrees in law, management or psychology… Further, think about it, they would have to be sure that their investment would be secure for several years to come so that training in S&T would have to be a systematic and long-term process, aimed at producing thousands of people who are comfortable with new technology and who innovate as a matter of course. Our piecemeal approach to doing things in a small way – UWI and Utech are NOT graduating enough persons in these areas – and re-doing them with a change in policy after our general elections will scare serious investors away. Intel would also require stable infrastructure. The power-cuts that we have from time-to-time would have cost us dearly in any bid that we would have mounted to attract Intel to Jamaica. Stable infrastructure would also include good roads that are not blocked every few days to mark the passing of someone or the increase in the price of petrol or the shooting of somebody. Wildcat strikes and threats of industrial action by vital persons like the police force would also be a no-no.
Above all, though, Intel wants to work with people with integrity. If I remember the article that led to me contacting Intel correctly, Brazil lost out on the Costa Rica deal because someone leaked the terms of the negotiations to the media before these negotiations were concluded. How many times has that happened here? Mexico lost out, because some misguided person approached the Intel management with some bandoolo proposition. How many times has that happened here?
I’ve got carried away; I was talking about our need to improve our educational output. We need to do that and catapult our talk into action before we can dream dreams about companies like Intel coming to work in Jamaica. I am not talking about economic re-colonisation but about genuine collaboration. In any event, the point of this discourse is that we need to move beyond being satisfied with having a 75% literacy level. True, we’re doing better than many countries in the world but then they ought not to be our benchmark if 75% is a step up for them. We need to be concerned with things other than enrolment statistics at primary and secondary levels and think about graduation levels from the tertiary level institutions that we have here. I heard a statistic that suggested that Ireland, with a population the same size as ours, has 30 universities. Perhaps I ought to confirm that before sending this out, but even if it were not so, what would be so wrong about having 30 universities here. The day that Jamaicans begin to think about accommodating 30 universities here is the day that we begin to think about rationalising our educational system. It will also be the day that we begin to progress. This is a web site for and about healing our children and our families – if we don’t think that we should do the necessary to progress for ourselves and our children’s sakes then why do we bother to get up in the mornings?