Dear PM, please heed this cry from the schoolhouse


Friday, June 07, 2019

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness, please ponder our grim reality and affirm early childhood education — not quick-fixes — as our number one priority if we are to curb antisocial conduct, crime; foster productivity; grow; and put the joy back into Jamaica.

The foundation is the key! This e-mail from a teacher in our well-funded school system was sent to me, but was clearly intended for you, so be kind to her:

“Hello, Mr Johnston, ever since I have been in education, for the past 12 years, I have not seen where the business of education is taken seriously by the Government. The finger-pointing down here continues to take much of the attention from up there. Aside from this, there are many underlying factors, apart from teaching and learning that hamper performance. For example, there are students in my class who have not been to school for more than 20 days for the entire term. Some were placed on a feeding programme, but the attendance is still poor.

“What do the children eat before school and at school, if at all? Normally the canteen provides a cooked meal for students on [Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education] PATH. No lunch was provided this week. There are 21 students in my class, and this week alone I spent over $1,000 from my purse to feed children. On Monday, two children had no lunch, one child got only $50 for the entire day.

“One morning the children were extremely sluggish and almost totally unresponsive (this happens a lot, though). They wouldn't sing, clap or move around during the lesson. I tried exercises, etc, to no avail. I asked for a show of hands to indicate who ate breakfast only; about 60 per cent of the hands went up. As a parent and a teacher, I feel sad, hurt and hopeless because it's like I'm driving water uphill.

“I come prepared to do my job, but how do I reach a class of hungry students. Oh, let me inform you that these are five-year-olds. I have had grade one students and it was no different. Grade five was even worse, because at times the smaller ones get and they don't. Not to mention we had some ASTEP [Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme] students and I was most sad for them. They are almost forgotten. They cook, clean, wash, and care for smaller ones.

“Children are left at school until after four o'clock in the days. When you call the parents you hear, 'Ooh, a so it did late? Or, I fell asleep. I'm on the road. I'm on my way.' I called two meetings to meet the parents last term and on both occasions less than 50 per cent turned up. I have children in my class whose parents I have never met. I called, I sent messages, and to no avail. One gentleman takes his child to school every morning and has never set foot inside to ask how is his child.

“I have 21 students in the class. Of the 21, only eight have textbooks. Of the eight, five have all books. Only yesterday, a child came to tell me her writing book got wet on Wednesday in the rain. She didn't come to school on Thursday and yesterday she came with nothing to write in or with. I could go on and on and on [about] poor deportment, mannerisms, exposure to sex and violence, children left unattended at home…. and we the teachers have to be mothers, friends, counsellors, etc. I comb hair, wash uniform, bathe children, feed them, buy school supplies, etc.

“Some teachers are making 'blood from stone'. Then, to top it off, our classrooms are filled with water when it rains and when it's hot we are toasting.

“Dear Sir, I am not saying sometimes the children are not being short-changed, but I know some teachers try really hard. At my school extra lessons are mainly free. Some of us have no family time. You speak of payment by performance. I can give of my best but if children are not present and when they are they are hungry, tired, abused, neglected, etc, How can I be judged and held accountable?”

Prime Minister, the teachers need a word from you! They open their hearts and purses readily and are still trying. If early childhood is priority, fund it now! Once this is done, readiness is assured; so primary, secondary, tertiary, whether academic- or competency-based, will flow smoothly. Stay conscious!

Canada's 2019 squash champion is J'can

Congratulations to 17-year-old Brianna Jefferson, the Under-23 women's squash champion of Canada.

“The event was great and very well run,” said Brianna, “I am very happy to have won the Under-23 event and be a national champion.”

Her grandmother – the peerless professional Scarlette Gillings, founding CEO of Jamaica Social Investment Fund, alumna of Planning Institute of Jamaica and United Nations Development Programme, who honed her skills prepping for Prime Minister Edward Phillip George Seaga — must be very proud. All Jamaica is proud. Yet higher, Brianna!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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