STEM education essential for workforce critical thinkers – Pandohie Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Jamaica cannot afford to remove Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects from its curriculum.

Amid a history of continuous productivity decline, the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) recent contemplation to eliminate certain subjects in the field is a terrible idea, argues Richard Pandohie, CEO of Seprod.

“We are a poor country because we have had over 30 plus years of continuous decline in productivity. You can’t legislate wealth. You have to create wealth,” Pandohie stated at the Jamaica Institute of Engineering (JIE) panel discussion, themed ‘Beyond the Numbers,’ held at the University of Technology (UTECH) on May 22.

“Our education system has to be oriented toward critical thinking. Presently, our kids are being trained to regurgitate information. Removing these modules further demonstrates that we are just talking about STEM without a path to achieve it,” Pandohie added.

Last week, CXC announced it would no longer offer agricultural science (double award) and mechanical engineering at the CSEC and CAPE levels, as well as electrical and electronic engineering, and technology and green engineering, citing cost and low enrollment.

However, the regional body this week said it would hold discussions with education ministers across the region before finalising the decision.

Pandohie, in conversation with Loop News on Thursday, welcomed this reconsideration but emphasised the importance of STEM and agriculture education for the region’s productivity and food security.

“We need to find solutions to attract students to these subjects and keep them in our schools,” he urged.

During the JIE panel discussion last week, engineers argued against the removal, highlighting that these subjects foster critical thinking—a skill Jamaica’s labour market urgently needs.

Pandohie criticised the suggestion to remove the subjects, saying, “It is disappointing that any STEM-related module could be removed from a curriculum in the Caribbean where productivity decline has been one of our greatest wealth destroyers.”

Drawing comparisons with other countries, Pandohie noted, “In Germany, third and fourth formers are required to get a skill before leaving high school. We should be doing the same, but we view tertiary education solely as a degree. We are not producing trained individuals, and there is a shortage of skilled workers.”

Pandohie cited a recent project where Seprod had to import welders from Denmark due to a lack of local expertise. “When those guys came in and we saw how they did it, we were blown away. We don’t have the skillset at that level,” he explained.

National Baking Company chairman Gary ‘Butch’ Hendrickson

Gary ‘Butch’ Hendrickson, in conversation with Loop News, stressed that the issue lies in resourcing schools and improving the education system, not cutting STEM subjects. “People might not understand if they don’t have equipment like I have. I have some very good people but as they age…who replaces them?” Hendrickson questioned.

Oneil Josephs, President of the JIE, echoed these concerns at the panel discussion. “The problem is a lack of resources for technical areas. The government must decide its priorities. STEM is a buzzword, but to what extent are we providing the resources to build out these critical areas and incentivize the necessary skillsets? Are we making it attractive in high schools?” Josephs reasoned.