HITTING THE BOOKS

Jamaica 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ruel B. Reid, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, on developing a world-class education system, customizing schools to the country's needs, and attracting more foreign students.

Ruel B. Reid
BIOGRAPHY
Ruel B. Reid pursued higher education at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Liberal Arts College of Jamaica, Bethlehem Moravian College, and Nova Southeastern University. He holds a diploma in education, bachelor's of science in business studies, and master’s of science in human resource management. He has a distinguished career in the teaching profession and has served as the St. Elizabeth parish representative on the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) General Council and chaired its St. Elizabeth parish debating committee. He was appointed to the Senate and assigned to the newly created Ministry of Education, Youth and Information in 2016.

What are the plans for the ministry in Vision 2030, and what progresses has been made in this regard?

The ministry's strategic and three-year business plans are aligned to Vision 2030. We work closely with the planning institute of Jamaica to monitor and keep track of the targets. We are even working with the private sector to make sure our education and training is aligned with what the industry requires. We are integrating STEM and TVET into the curriculum. We are strengthening early child education, ensuring every child has the opportunity for full high school education up to grade 13. Students will graduate with at least an occupational degree with some skill they can use for further education or transition into the world of work. All of that is consistent with Jamaica's quest to develop world-class education and training system, with no one left behind, training and certifying aligned with the demands of the 21st century economy and beyond.

How do you make sure the education system is aligned with market expectations?

We are transitioning out of an agriculture-based economy, which is employing higher levels of mechanization. We developed strong capabilities in the service sector; tourism is one of the major industries. Along with that, there is transport and logistics. We have expanded that into maritime and maritime logistics, cruise tourism, among others. Those are emerging opportunities. We have recently approved the establishment of Caribbean Maritime University. Therefore, we can train more young people in these high-paying jobs in maritime logistics and transportation, and we are excited about that. The BPO is another area we are targeting. We have done great work for tourism. There is a great deal of potential growth in this particular area. We now have to customize our training program to make sure the graduating students are not generic. They should be trained in technical skills, customer service, and the ability to use the technology to deliver these back-office operations.

What competitive advantage do you identify in Jamaica for foreign students, and how do you plan to leverage this?

We already have large cohorts from the US, Canada, and other places around the world. Globally, the cost of higher education is increasing. Jamaica is a low-cost country. Our labor is relatively cheap. Jamaica is far more attractive in studying abroad. We also have tourism, so students can come and in addition to studying they can travel. They can participate in our tourism product, all-inclusive tourism, or whatever type of tourism they want. Jamaica is a major international brand. We have so many great Jamaicans. In a lot of countries, Jamaica is a household name. We have to build out the capacity for tertiary institutions to accommodate this particular demand. I have been in discussions with a number of these players. The UCC is one. The UCC and the Caribbean School of Medical Sciences Jamaica are partnering together. To be sustainable, they have to seek to attract international students. Jamaica is not unique in the sense that Antigua, Dominica, and Grenada have already gone in the market for offshore medical schools. We are in a prime location for investment in so many areas, particularly in higher education.

How do you better associate the Jamaica name and brand with education?

It is all a marketing plan in the same way that we are marketing tourism. We use social media. We have a large diaspora group. We even have a diaspora consultant that works with the diaspora in the US. Part of the mandate, along with our ambassador, is to develop our marketing plan. We have to ensure that we have the capacity. The University of the West Indies is expanding to accommodate some of that. We have UCC, which is also expanding. It has a task force to help manage this initiative. All of this is taking place together.