AS schools reopen there is an urgent need for Jamaicans to go forward with a singleness of purpose as far as education is concerned, because education is the engine for personal development and economic and national growth. Too many Jamaicans have been left out of the loop in the educational process and this has been the main cause for many of our social problems and crime. The aim of education is to enable people to live peacefully and productively in a community.
There are two Jamaicas - the educated and the uneducated classes. The educated have travelled the way of upward social mobility and are doing well. The uneducated are lagging behind and we have to motivate and help them to move forward to close the social gap between the two groups. People who received education have the jobs, and many have been able to move out of the inner cities to the suburban areas where they live comfortably. We want to recapture the spirit of market women who sweat and toil to educate their children, many of whom are now reaping the benefits from their children's education. We have to recapture the characteristics of teachers many years ago who not only regarded teaching as a job, but as a pilot in the total development of the personality of children. A good education means sacrifice.
Those Jamaican mothers and fathers who cannot find money to spend on the education of their children, but who find it to do other things of less importance like buying expensive hairpieces, sporting silver clips on their noses, lips, ears and other parts of their bodies and almost living at bars, are going to live to regret it. They ought not to sacrifice the education of their children for these things. They are the backward ones in today's progressive Jamaica. Make no mistake about it, apart from religion, education, as far as I am concerned, is the most critical factor in a person's life. We cannot afford to dilly-dally over education as we have been doing for the past 25 years. We have to chart a single, positive course.
That is why all those business enterprises which gave a record number of scholarships this year to secondary schools are to be commended, and the children are expected to make maximum use of their awards. But it is not only big firms and government which should award scholarships. Medium-sized business should also give scholarships.
This brings me to early childhood education. For years early childhood education has not been given the attention it deserves, but now there has been considerable focus on it with the Early Childhood Commission leading the way.
In this respect, Palmyra Foundation deserves high commendation for its book distribution programme under the banner, "The future is bright when you can read and write." I have worked and refereed football matches in the ghettos in Kingston and St Andrew over the years, and am quite aware that a lot of the social problems and crime are caused by people who cannot read and write. Many of the dons with whom I worked could not read and write, and I had to complete forms for many of them. Incidentally, not many of the dons were gunmen.
At the start of the last school year, there was an 86 per cent success rate in reading, writing, mathematics and science skills by 1510 kindergarten children who received books from the Palmyra Foundation. The distribution for this year kicked off last week with the distribution of free book bags to 471 four-year-old kindergarten children on the first day at the Montego Bay Infant School. Teams will visit more than 70 schools in towns and villages across the island this year and distribute 25,000 free books and school supplies to 5,750 children, valued at US$170,000. Each of the children will receive their very own Palmyra Foundation book bag containing a colourful 300-page BrainQuest Workbook, two to three scholastic reading books, a pack of crayons and a pencil, valued at US$34 per pack.
I think the value of the programme is best summed up by Noel Sloley Jr, vice president of sales and marketing, Jamaica Tours Ltd, which is providing its services for the fifth year in bringing distribution teams and books to the many schools when he said, "It is important to nurture our children at a tender age and provide them with books so that they can develop a love for reading and 'story time'. The eradication of early childhood illiteracy in Jamaica is critical to the future of the country."
So let us all put our shoulders and money behind education in Jamaica.
English vs patois debate
The debate on English and patois has heated up again. Some people want patois to be our first language instead of English. This will not work because Jamaica is not an island unto itself. So English has got to be our first language in order to do business nationally and internationally, study overseas, among other things. There are born and bred Jamaicans who cannot speak or understand patois. Even among patois speakers, the dialect is different. We need to standardise patois into one dialect.
Another aspect is that mixing English with patois will not do, and is most likely to cause confusion. Many people believe that patois is the cause of the poor English results in CSEC and other examinations, and children who get good results in English are from homes which do not speak patois as the first "language".
I spent my summer holidays this year at two hotels on the north coast: Sandals Negril and Cardiff Hotel (formerly Runaway Bay Hotel) in Discovery Bay, St Ann. I noticed that the staff at both hotels spoke Standard English to guests and communicated among themselves in patois, but the dialect in Negril was slightly different from that in Discovery Bay. In my travels throughout Jamaica I find that patois is the most effective way in which working-class people communicate with each other. On the other hand, unless one speaks Standard English, it is difficult to get a job in any of the tourist resorts in Jamaica.