Columns

Burying our heads in the sand as usual

Lascelve GRAHAM

Monday, February 10, 2014    

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THERE seems to be a new crisis in education every day. At the time of writing the current crisis surrounds a survey by the police looking at the social background of prison inmates including the schools they attended. The Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites is being castigated for having aired the names of the schools showing the greatest number of such attendees.

Why are we so reluctant to face unpleasant facts and call a spade a spade? Instead, we prefer to blame the messenger. Is it that we set out to so confound our leaders that they do nothing and hence we remain in the quagmire in which we find ourselves? If not, why is it that we so often get bogged down in the thick of thin things?

It reminds me of my time in football when by way of what was described at the time as "deft dribbling and body moves" I would so confuse, frustrate and befuddle the opponent that, after a while, on my approach, he would stand like a statue, refusing to even stretch out a leg, thus allowing me to pass without any opposition.

Whenever there have been published academic rankings of our schools it has caused an uproar -- in part because many feel these ratings should be kept secret lest they discourage the more lowly ranked. In many parts of the world, schools are academically ranked. In England, the rankings are referred to as league tables, where the names of all the schools and their standings can be found. This information helps schools, their communities and the authorities to know their situation and to collaborate towards improving it.

I can understand and accept the questioning of the science related to the police report, but, in fact, did we really require the police report to tell us which schools needed help?

The National Education Inspectorate report clearly indicated that need. We know our inner cities. We know that certain activities, eg violence and crime, have a high correlation with our inner cities. We know the schools that are in the inner cities. Is it not reasonable to assume that there is a high probability that a larger number of the youngsters who attend these schools, through no fault of their own, given their unfortunate circumstances, will take antisocial pathways in life?

I am willing to bet that a good many of the young people at these schools would not be there if they had a choice. In other words, these schools are already stigmatised. Trying to sanitise them by not calling names is of little significance. The only way we are going to change that sentiment is to make the schools better. We should not, therefore, be afraid to name these schools, since in so doing it may awaken others to the mammoth task facing them and to the yeoman service being rendered by many educators there.

Why shouldn't their names be publicised if this may make more Jamaicans aware of their dire needs and hence help to garner more assistance for these schools? Idiocy and corruption thrive in darkness. Let us support transparency. Let us shine the light wherever we can. We must confront our problems squarely and without equivocation if we are going to properly define and solve them. Whereas I believe that some of the media headlines were unfortunate and could have been done with greater sensitivity, this din about naming the schools suggests we are not seeing the forest for the trees.

A number of persons wittingly or unwittingly misinform about what the minister said and suggest, or clearly state that he blames the schools as being the source of the problem. Nothing could be further from the truth. In his interviews and public statements the minister has clearly indicated that he believes schools are important socialising agents and he has been keen on ensuring that they take up the task abandoned by many parents especially in the inner city; that of inculcating pro-social values, attitudes and life skills in their students. He is directly responsible for schools in Jamaica and so wants to do as much as he can, through schools, to have an impact on the socialisation of our youth. He has singled out the schools named, among others, to get special help. What's wrong with that?

We are not surprised at the upgraded high schools named, and seriously hope that they will get more of the resources required to help them. However, many persons are quite startled and alarmed at the naming of a traditional high school. A detailed look needs to be taken at this finding.

In the most recent academic rankings of high schools, Jamaica College 'scored' among the worst, or was the worst-placed boys' school and was surpassed by a number of upgraded high schools. And, not too long ago, JC was also named in another unfortunate circumstance, that of cheating in SBAs. It is particularly disconcerting because this occurrence was not discovered by any system set up by the school itself, and one wonders what would have happened if a disgruntled teacher had not brought it to light. One is concerned because JC is one of our most privileged schools; with the type of access to resources enjoyed by few schools in Jamaica. If these negatives are associated with JC, what should we expect of less privileged schools? What message is being sent by an institution regarded by many as one of our most prestigious high schools in the country? It is not in Jamaica's best interest that we gloss over these disturbing revelations with the usual excuses.

Crime and violence are very complex phenomena with a multiplicity of factors and variables contributing to their occurrence, including politics, family, peers, schools, personality, economics, etc. The society must work at improving a number of these simultaneously. The minister of education is seeking, through schools, to make as meaningful an impact as possible to help change the antisocial behaviour of our youngsters. However, I believe the minister is aware that the changes he envisages will not happen except the citizenry is fully cognisant of the problems and involved in the process. Hence his endeavour to keep them fully informed by publicising his various actions and findings in as much detail as possible.

The police, by themselves, will not be able to successfully tackle crime and violence. They need to be assisted by citizens who are educated and socialised to feel that inculcating pro-social values and attitudes in our youngsters is a necessary step in the right direction. The family in Jamaica is challenged in this regard and so other agents of socialisation must take up the slack at least in the short to medium-term, while the long-term process of "fixing" the family takes place.

The minister of education, it appears, has decided to take up some of the socialisation slack through schools. Let us help him. Let us be part of the solution, not continue to be part of the problem. We are in a crisis of values and attitudes, which helps to spawn corruption, education problems, crime and violence, etc. In a crisis, crisis measures are necessary. It cannot be business as usual.

Dr Lascelve "Muggy" Graham is former Jamaica football captain.

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