All well-thinking Jamaicans must have been incensed by the video that went viral towards the end of last week of two schoolboys forcing a third to kneel facing the wall and subjecting him to kicks in his rib cage. This took place in a western Kingston school during the school day and the three protagonists are all from the area.
Some of the reactions were in the vein of, "If it were my child..." Yes, I understand that initial feeling of revolt, but the solution has to be more than just that.
I would really like to know the background of these 16-year-old perpetrators and their victim: family structure, school attendance, attendance of parents at Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings, academic performance, participation in co-curricular activities, membership in gangs, etc. In addition, are they beneficiaries of the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH)?
I would hazard a guess that the "executioners" come from single-family homes in which the father is absent and the mother is stressed out by the burden of having to provide for her family. By virtue of her hustle, attendance at PTA meetings might occupy low status on the totem pole. These guys may be frequently late for school or for class or absent from a few classes. They are quite likely low achievers who do not participate in co-curricular activities. Choir, drama, debating, not even football is for them. This level of non-participation does not redound to the benefit of the institution.
I propose that some special programme be put in place for vulnerable youngsters. This programme would adopt a multi-agency approach, not just the schools.
What I would like to see is for students who are scoring 30 per cent and below to be given special attention as of Grade 8 and become a part of this programme. We need to nip the problem in the bud or else we will always have a major crime problem. These guys will be prime targets for gangs, and the girls candidates for early motherhood.
This is not what we pay taxes for. We have to institute a culture in which the youngsters understand that school is an investment that the country makes in them. After five, seven years, we are expecting a return on our investment! To hear some members of the football fraternity state that 40 per cent in a minimum of four subjects is too high a standard is sickening! It is abusing students for our own ends. It is feeding them a pipe dream.
We can never imagine how some of these adolescents think.
A few decades ago I was teaching in a small, private high school. In a grade 9 class I asked the students what their plans were after grade 11. One girl told me that her plan was to go to evening classes. I almost hit the roof! Here was a girl who had been kicked out of a traditional high school where the fees were virtually nil, and we gave her a second chance, but her parents had to pay, and she declares before an entire class that her plans were to go to evening classes "for yu nuh haffi get all ah yu subjec' dem inna school".
Recently we heard of a schoolboy football team that had been decimated because some of the players had opted to go into scamming. When I hear some members of the private sector bemoan the fact that schools are not turning out graduates with the requisite skills for the job market, that HEART/NSTA Trust isn't turning out enough graduates for the hospitality industry, I say to myself, "These people don't understand certain issues." I'm even tempted to ask, "Dem (school leavers) tell yu seh dem wan' wuk?"
Don't get me wrong. I would like to think that the vast majority of Jamaicans are ambitious. In spite of difficulties experienced, they strive to improve themselves. Some work overseas for a part of the year and return to Jamaica to drive their taxis or to work on their farms. However, for a significant number, work is not an option. The jobs they want, they can't get because they wasted their time in school or they have committed themselves. This is the problem that I would like to cauterise.
In 2017, Toulouse embarked on an ambitious project which has attracted the interest of other cities in France. It bussed 1,140 students from the inner city to high-performing institutions. The grades of the students involved went up and the dropout rate decreased. We could try a pilot in Jamaica.
We graduate guidance counsellors and social workers who cannot find employment in their field. Employ them. Some schools need a higher ratio of guidance counsellors to students.
The above two proposals will cost a pretty penny, but spend the money. Our children deserve the chance to succeed in life.
Norman W M Thompson
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