BY LUKE DOUGLAS Career & Education senior reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
RALPHTON Peart is less than eight months away from becoming a trained teacher, a dream he has overcome great odds to live.
Those who knew him as a youngster would agree; Peart left Sudbury All-Age School at grade nine unable to read.
However, thanks to the Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), formerly the Jamaica Movement for Adult Literacy (JAMAL), and the support of his parents who believed in him, the 30-year-old is today looking to a career in education.
The turning point for Peart — now a final-year student at Church Teachers' College in Mandeville — came in 2002. Twenty years old at the time, he swallowed his pride and headed for a JAMAL class in Mandeville.
He had earlier tried without success to get into a HEART/NTA programme, but was turned down.
"I couldn't pass the reading test; I realised the pitfalls of not being able to read. It was a struggle for me wherever I went," Peart told the Jamaica Observer.
He was determined to change things. Taking two vehicles each day to reach classes in Mandeville from Sudbury District, he mastered the basics of English and mathematics within a year.
"I was able to do basic math like fractions, addition, subtraction, and in English, subject-verb agreement and so on. The foundation they gave me was good," Peart said of his stint at JAMAL.
He has paid tribute to JAMAL teachers like the late Mrs Nelson, Ms Hall and Ms Wine, among others.
"They told us we were not worse off than anybody else and we could learn something from JAMAL. Many of us came to the class really demotivated and needed encouragement," Peart said of the adult literacy institution.
"Mrs Nelson used to say some of us would teach our children and grandchildren in school one day. When I was a teenager growing into adulthood, I didn't think it was possible for me to teach anybody. It was good to know that somebody believed in me," he added.
While attending JAMAL, Peart withstood the snide remarks and peer pressure on his journey to success.
But not everyone had his drive as other non-readers dropped out of the class.
"There was a guy who told me he was being laughed at by people and I told him if he stopped they would continue to laugh at him, but if he learnt to read they would no longer have anything to laugh about. I was determined to make something of myself and to move on," he told Career & Education.
Peart enrolled in a HEART plumbing course at the Cobbla campus in Manchester, but continued to strengthen his knowledge in English and math.
Then he took four subjects in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination, passing three.
"It felt good; passing those exams closed a chapter for me. It made me believe in myself and I knew that if I pushed myself, I could achieve much more," Peart said.
Evening classes at Spalding High the following year resulted in him doing math, English and human and social biology in CSEC. He passed all three and now had six subjects in all.
When Peart enrolled at Church over two years ago, he was encouraged to pursue the math and physical education (PE) option. This meant he had to sit PE in CSEC for which he earned a grade one.
As he looks towards a teaching career, Peart is always willing to tell his story to motivate others who find themselves in a seemingly hopeless situation.
Reflecting on his childhood, he feels his teachers did not do enough to identify and assist children who were falling behind academically.
"In school I didn't understand what was being taught, but I was just moved from class to class. I didn't even know that letters had sounds and that it is by putting the sounds together that you pronounce words," Peart disclosed.
"I wasn't the only one at my school who couldn't read. In fact, some of the people I went to school with still can't read. I am one of the few who got out of that situation," he added.
According to Peart, there were no remedial programmes for students who were struggling.
"We were not treated properly. We were called 'dunce' and all sorts of things. At that point, I hated school. Students and teachers made fun of me because I couldn't master the things they were doing," he said.
His parents, though well-meaning, could do little to assist him.
"I was living with both parents, but my father couldn't read and my mother barely could read," Peart said.
"The problem in communities like these is that people don't know what to do when their child is not learning. Sometimes they pull a child out of one school and put them in another, and hope something will change," he added.
But with the dark days of illiteracy behind him, Peart is anxious to help others into a brighter future.
"Whatever the mind can conceive, it can achieve," he advised. "If you are in a bad situation now, you don't have to stay there."
Peart was recognised for his outstanding achievements during Adult Learner's Week recently.