I have been tremendously blessed to have had some incredible math teachers. In 1996, I took a class in Applied Econometrics with Professor Al Francis at University of the West Indies, Mona. This was the first time I realized that mathematics and statistics would be useful in the real world. The way I had been taught before was always fun because I loved puzzles, but I never connected the subjects to something that would benefit society.
In that class, I wrote a paper looking at the correlation between the crime rate in Jamaica and the pass rates at the Ordinary level or high school leaving exams in Jamaica. As expected, there was what we call in statistics a negative correlation. When pass rates went up, crime rates went down; when pass rates went down, crime rates went up. Crime rates and exam pass rates went in opposite directions.
21 years and a Ph.D. later, I am under no illusions that any analysis done as an undergraduate is a definitive study on the matter. Yet, there are logical reasons to believe that low educational achievement of most of our school leavers and their inability to get decent paying jobs, will make crime a very attractive option from a financial perspective.
It is therefore always disappointing to hear discussions in Jamaica about the need to solve the crime problem that omit any discussion about the need to fix the education problem. I do not see any realistic solution to Jamaica's crime problem without efforts to find a solution to Jamaica's education challenges.
However, the opposite is also true. I see a linear pathway from educating students for in-demand skills based on math for virtual export. If Jamaica can educate students so they learn math at a deep level, there are opportunities for Jamaica as a country to carve out a niche market in math-based services and sell them on-line. This opportunity will not be with us forever. The time to commit the needed resources to solve this problem is NOW!
Dr. Linda Bailey-McWeeney is the Executive Director of Reggae Math Foundation, an economist, and an educator. She has been an Assistant Professor at Baruch College, City University of New York and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Economics at College of Staten Island, City University of New York, and Wagner College. She has a Ph.D. in Economics from Michigan State University.