Education Minister Fayval Williams and her foreign affairs counterpart, Kamina Johnson Smith, have both been criticised for the respective handling of their portfolios by People’s National Party (PNP) senator Damion Crawford, who today (August 17) suggested a leadership change to address major issues.
Crawford, the opposition spokesperson on education and training, launched a scathing broadside against Williams, bemoaning the Ministry of Education’s poor demonstration of purpose and lacklustre preparedness some two weeks ahead of the 2022-23 academic year.
“We are concerned about what seems to be best described as nonchalance in dealing with an education system already underperforming before COVID-19, and decimated [by] the decisions of Government during the pandemic. It is our belief that the ministry needs greater energy and creativity at this moment in time,” Crawford said in concluding the PNP press conference presentation.
Responding to questions from journalists earlier this morning after giving the ministry a failing grade, Crawford said, “There are two methods of change: you can change the person or the person can change.”
“So, if the minister, at current, is incapable to get greater vim, vigour and vitality as it relates to the management of the education system; if she is incapable to exert the energy, interest and excitement that it demands, then the minister needs to change,” he argued.
“However, I believe the first call is for Minister [Williams] to accept her need to change, indicate to the public that she can do better and not misunderstand the circumstances that face the education system,” Crawford said.
His comments come as teacher migration and staff attrition continue to plague the public education system, with some school administrators expressing concern that Jamaican teacher-student ratios will worsen as more educators leave for better wages overseas.
Crawford berated the rhetoric from the minister that teacher migration worries are seemingly ‘overblown’ and data from the education ministry pointing to the exodus being in line with global standards.
“If you look at the realities, the migration, in its numbers, may be within the global average, however, migration from specific parts of our education system, such as math, is way above the global average,” noted the senator.
“So, while an attrition rate of three per cent is not alarming, the continuous attrition of three per cent, and attrition of 16-20 per cent from mathematics, 70 per cent from technical subjects, that is of great concern,” he added.
With respect to Foreign Affairs Minister Johnson Smith, Crawford initially conceded that it was “impossible to have extensive comments” on reports of stranded Jamaicans in Panama.
That ‘impossibility’ was seemingly short-lived, however, as owing to sparse updates on the status of the Jamaicans who happen to be teachers, Crawford contended perhaps her loss at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meet left the minister ‘winded’.
“It is impossible for me to have extensive comments as it is really a duty of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [and Foreign Trade], in spite of the fact that they [are] teachers. Whatever the industry that the citizen was a part of, they are in need of protection,” he quipped.
“It seems more and more clear to me that the greatest benefit Jamaica would have had from the [Commonwealth] victory, at the CARICOM level, would have been a better foreign minister than the one that we have. We really missed out on getting a better foreign minister with the loss,” mused Crawford.
According to Crawford, Johnson Smith’s record speaks for itself and “is not new”, citing her handling of the Shiprider Agreement with the United States and how Jamaican fishermen were allegedly abused by the US Navy, as well as the Government’s initial refusal to accept Jamaican cruise ship workers during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and, most recently, its ‘loan offer’ to a group of medical students stranded in Ukraine when Russian forces launched their invasion.
“The minister’s understanding of the protection of our citizens in foreign waters seems to be lacking and maybe that ministry also needs more creativity. Definitely not more energy, because she had a lot of energy in the campaign,” he added.