Transform the education system to achieve economic growth, says VM boss

Courtney Campbell, CEO and President of Victoria Mutual Group

A transformation of Jamaica’s education system is key to the country’s economic growth, according to Courtney Campbell, President and CEO of Victoria Mutual (VM) Group.

Campbell made the remark during the opening day Monday of the Jamaica Theological Seminary (JTS) 2022 Leadership Conference.

He noted that the dissemination of knowledge and information has been the basis of all successful national transformations. He cited examples of successful countries that have transformed, including the so-called Asian Tigers – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and the Dragons – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. These countries, he said, are rapidly converging to the level of advanced nations, while least developed African countries like the Central African Republic, Congo, Niger, Gambia and Caribbean countries like Haiti and Jamaica and some Latin American countries such as Venezuela have stagnated or experienced sluggish growth.

Campbell was referring to a study that looked at the per capita GDP growth of 84 developing countries from 1961 to 2017.

The CEO said Jamaica must develop a vision for a more inclusive and equitable education system while quoting Nelson Mandela who said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Campbell noted that prior to COVID-19, the Jamaican economy suffered from low productivity rates and high income inequality. He pointed to the Jamaica Productivity Centre, which pointed out that Jamaica has the lowest labor productivity compared to other Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

“One of the reasons for the low productivity is the low availability of some of the skills needed to compete globally at this time. We need to transform the content of our training,” Campbell said.

He postulated that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of technology across industries, so these talent challenges have become even more pronounced.

“If your company or your country cannot claim a ready pool of these digital skills, you will be left behind. Income inequality has been exacerbated by permanent and temporary job and income losses,” Campbell said.

“To address these issues, we will need to help our employees identify and transition to new labor market opportunities supported by revised labor market policies. We also need to invest in retraining and upskilling programmes,” he added.

Campbell stressed that VM was doing its part and in 2018 the Group designed what he called an ambitious digital transformation program.

“The primary goal of this program is to move from ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital’ by infusing digital technologies into all of VM’s key business processes,” Campbell explained.

He cautioned that to do this well, “we’ve had to ensure that our employees develop essential digital skills that allow them to thrive, not just in a digital workplace, but also in the new digital world.”

In this regard, Campbell said an entire pillar of VM’s digital strategy is dedicated to building digital capabilities, with a focus on skills such as design thinking, customer journey mapping, data analysis, agile methodologies, etc.

Says Campbell, “Our employees have adapted to remote collaboration. We have invested in a digital collaboration platform to enable the transition to this new paradigm, and more importantly, we have an ongoing training program designed to help our team capitalize on the benefits of the platform for greater productivity while working remotely. The importance of educational institutions recognizing the importance of focusing on these types of new digital skills cannot be overstated. These are now skills for survival. Our labor market needs this skills enhancement, and it is imperative that we develop and integrate these new skills into our country’s education systems.”

Campbell argued that in the post-COVID world, business leaders and lawmakers will need to consider new labor market practices, regulations and laws to support the new normal.

And, he said, there is another long-standing challenge in Jamaica’s education system that demands transformation.

He said that based on the results, only 25% of the more than 160 high schools in the country are performing at the level required to properly prepare young people for a prosperous future.

“In the other 75% of schools, only two out of 10 pupils pass at least five ESEC subjects, including English and mathematics. As a result, only 19% of Jamaicans between the ages of 19 and 24 are currently enrolled in tertiary education, and only 15% of the labor force has received tertiary education.

“We need to transform the quality of our educational outcomes in the majority of our schools. We leave behind too many of our talented young Jamaicans. These are the potential data-scientists, actuaries, engineers, bankers of the future. We leave them behind because of major and multi-faceted weaknesses in our early childhood, primary and secondary systems,” Campbell said.

He asked, “What investments are needed to transform this situation? How can we strategize to achieve a bold goal – that in 15 years, at least 90% of our 18-year-olds will enroll in higher education or gain professional certification? »

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