A time for hope in Jamaica
Reggae Girlz <strong id="strong-1">(Photo: Seaford Russell Jr)</strong>

In embracing this Easter season of hope, let us begin by reflecting on our once-little-known Reggae Girlz — Jamaica’s National Women’s Football Team — who triumphed 5-1 over the reputable Dominican Republic in the Concacaf Women’s Championship Group C qualifier last Tuesday at Sabina Park.

We were part of a happy band that travelled to France for their first outing in the Fifa Women’s World Cup final in 2019. Khadija “Bunny” Shaw was beginning to show her sparkle and Jodi Brown, her spirit. Now Jodi Brown is showing fancy footwork on the field, scoring the first goal in last week’s match, and Bunny Shaw added two to her international tally of 51 goals.

But for the efforts of Cedella Marley, the Girlz would probably not have got here as the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) had been slow in their support. Now that Fifa has a woman secretary general, Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, who is a well-respected humanitarian, there is bright hope for the Reggae Girlz and other national women’s teams.

In an interview posted on the Soccerex website, Diouf Samoura says, “Gender equality, diversity and inclusion, women’s football, and developing women in senior leadership positions are all key areas for Fifa and something we are taking seriously.”

She also noted that Fifa had launched a Women’s Development Programme “and passed landmark maternity reforms to protect female players”.

We learnt from the interview that, for the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and other member organisations, “Fifa is also providing $US500,000 [each]… as part of the COVID-19 relief plan to specifically support women’s football from the financial impacts of the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic on football cannot be underestimated and this support will go a long way to ensure we can continue the momentum of France 2019 towards the next Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2023”.

Women footballers worldwide are being given the respect they deserve, and they greeted the announcement from the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) last August that, with immediate effect, “the Irish football association is proud to announce that players representing the Republic of Ireland’s senior men’s and women’s teams will receive the same match fees in international matches”.

When we reflect on the pride and joy our Reggae Girlz have brought Jamaica, we hope we will soon hear a similar announcement from the JFF.

Meanwhile, this US$500,000 should help them to become fit and ready for the final phase of matches among the Concacaf groups from which the four regional finalists will emerge for the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2023.

We pause to recognise the excellence of our Jamaica National Women’s Netball Team, the Sunshine Girls, who remain in the top three in the world, despite their constant struggle to receive sponsorship. Kudos to Molly Rhone and Marva Bernard who have been tireless in their efforts to mentor and motivate our netballers.

Why have we been celebrating sports so much?

Years ago, this column featured an interview with former National Coach Carl Brown. The headline was ‘It’s the ball or the bullet.’ He explained that when communities engaged in sports of any kind and there were local events, there was hardly any incidence of crime. Indeed, he said, sports had attracted youngsters who may have responded to the call of gang leaders. He said sports promoted discipline, diligence, and teamwork — qualities for success in any field of endeavour.

As we enjoy the Carifta Games, let us remember his words and give our staunch support to our local and regional athletes.

GETTING EDUCATION BACK ON TRACK

Every business in Jamaica has faced challenges getting back on track after the novel coronavirus pandemic. Consider then the Ministry of Education and Youth (MOEY), which has 40,000 employees and tens of thousands of customers in the form of students. While other businesses can tap into their human resource and marketing database to train and track, the MOEY has a large unknown that is beyond its control — the family life of these students.

In her presentation at the sectoral debate last week, Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams took us through the troubling state of education in Jamaica, which was bad enough in the pre-pandemic years, but is now reeling from pandemic blows.

Minister Williams has taken this seriously: “We had indicated during the midst of the pandemic that approximately 120,000 of our primary and high school students were not showing up online or using any of the other modalities provided for their education during the pandemic. Prior to returning our students to full face-to-face, we launched our Yard-to-Yard, Find the Child Initiative, which engaged 108 social workers and 580 of our HOPE [ Housing, Opportunity, Production and Employment Programme] students at a cost of $103 million for a period of three months. Added to this initiative were the efforts of 928 guidance counsellors and our 177 deans of discipline for a total of 1,793 persons.”

She continued, “Add to this the many principals, teachers and administrators, and ordinary Jamaicans who joined the effort and reached out to parents and community members to re-engage our students in the face-to-face setting… Using a weekly average of 32,554 unaccounted for students over the period February 14 to April 1, 2022 shows that we have been able to re-engage approximately 87,446 of the 120,000 students we had indicated were not accounted for during the pandemic.”

There is wide speculation about these 32,554 missing students, some quite distressing. The minister is urging Jamaicans to call the Children’s Helpline at 211 to report truancy in their communities so that the MOEY’s internal officers and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) can visit these homes.

The ministry is helping schools and students to catch up on time lost. They have established free online extra lesson classes for primary and secondary school students, and parents are urged to take advantage of this. It will take dedicated parental guidance to ensure that children are indeed doing these lessons and are not being distracted by the smorgasbord of games and social media. It will take close supervision.

Not every child has someone to help them, so this is a call for mentors to contact their alma maters and see how they can help a child.

The Coding in Schools Programme is off to a good start and free-to-air channels are carrying primary and secondary school classes. Let us sit with our children and mentees to help them take full advantage of these offerings.

Regarding violence in schools, Minister Williams noted that there is focus on fourth formers: “The typical grade 10 student is about 15 years old, just entering adolescence. Madame Speaker, almost two years of a structured school learning environment have gone and almost two years of building friendships have gone. The typical grade 10 student is entering the teenage years (15-17). Psychologists say this is a time of change for how teenagers think, feel, and interact with others, and a time of change for how their bodies grow. This is also an important time to prepare for more independence and responsibility, especially for our boys, and it is scary. It is a really, really rough time mentally for our grade 10 students in particular.”

The ministry has introduced additional guidelines for school safety, but Minister Williams noted, “Even while we are using measures that include suspension for fights, and we use metal detectors and additional resource officers, Madam Speaker, we recognise that our students need some heavy-duty psychosocial support to begin to see a greater level of socio-emotional intelligence, competencies, and skills that will enable our students to manage their emotions, thus getting to that state where they can resolve conflicts without violence.” As a result, a character-building programme will be added to the school curriculum.

The Early Childhood Commission (ECC) is going full speed with the reopening of infant schools and Brain Builder Centres to assist parents of children up to three years old. The locations are available on the ECC website, which explains that the first 1,000 days are crucial to the development of young brains. The ECC has developed a 1st 1000 Days app which helps parents to navigate the early development of their infants.

Minister Williams noted that the Jamaica Education Transformation Commission (JETC) has produced

“55 prioritised recommendations across seven broad areas: changing the future of education; governance; administration, leadership, and legislation; early childhood education; teacher teaching and learning; curriculum and assessment; tertiary education; technical and vocational education and training (TVET); infrastructure and technology; and finance”. She said that, on the commission’s recommendation, an implementation oversight committee had been formed and that Prime Minister Andrew Holness had announced the appointment of Dr Adrian Stokes as the chairman. This will take a format like that of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) comprising stakeholder leadership.

Despite repeated calls, our first National Hero Marcus Mosiah Garvey’s teachings are still not mainstreamed in our curriculum. In his book Marcus Garvey Said, the late Ken Jones has curated important quotations which could guide our students in every aspect of life, and Professor Rupert Lewis’s Marcus Garvey is a manageable book for high school students. I am mystified as to the reluctance of administrations to bring the dignity and vision of Garvey to life in our students.

EPOC CHAIR NOTES JA’S RESILIENCE

At last week’s press briefing, EPOC Chairman Keith Duncan said that, despite the conflict overseas, which is raising Jamaica’s rate of inflation, he believes in our economic resilience.

Jamaica’s unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent at October 2021 represents the lowest rate since the October 2019 rate of 7.2 per cent, while the number of people employed increased by 76,600 to 1,234,800, relative to October 2020. He said the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) expects employment to return to pre-COVID levels in FY2022/23.

Duncan noted the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) reports that real gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.7 per cent for the October to December 2021 quarter, which represents the sixth-consecutive quarterly growth since the decline in the April-June 2020 quarter. The Services Industry saw growth of 9.0 per cent across all sectors except Government Services. Hotels and Restaurants continue to drive growth with a 79.5 per cent increase. In the Goods Producing Industries there was marginal growth of 0.5 per cent, which was pulled down by Mining and Quarrying which saw a 60.5 per cent decline.

Duncan further noted that, while budget projections for fiscal year 2022/23 are credible and achievable, the risks to the growth and revenue projections remain high with continued disruptions in the international markets, which could create a drag on the Jamaican economy and slow growth and revenue intake.

Duncan warned that COVID-19 remains a risk and Jamaica could see a fifth wave, which would find the nation vulnerable, given our stubbornly low (approximately 25 per cent of the population) vaccination rate.

I wonder if our low positivity rate is a result of herd immunity.

However, now that any visitor may enter Jamaica untested, while the Omicron variant is rampant in areas of the US and China, we should be careful about ending the mask mandate. We should make every effort to protect tourism and airport workers and follow the example of some private companies that have already indicated they will keep the mask and distancing protocols.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com

Jean Lowrie-Chin

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