Life without learning is deathThursday, December 09, 2021
BY DELFORD G MORGAN
“If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one eventually ceases to be controlled by a fear of what life can bring” – James Baldwin
Jamaica's Independence project for full freedom and universal rights, birthed during slavery, has at all times been held hostage by a ruling class which projected its self-interests over those of the majority black underclass.
During slavery, there was a general prohibition on learning for the enslaved, a rather telling pointer that enslavement embodies not just physical, but also mental coercion. Thus enslavement and learning were incompatibles that were legally, commercially, and religiously enforced, even during the so-called period of apprenticeship between 1834 and 1838.
The commencement of a formal, but limited, education for black children began after abolition, but in keeping with an evil, selfish mindset, educational opportunities were limited to the needs of the ruling elite and preservation of the status quo. This systemic chokehold on the development of black Jamaicans lingered long and up to the latter half of the last century, surviving sufferage and Independence.
The great fear, and thus justification, for this crime, was that an enlightened people would not be denied their share of space and spoils. Hence, educational opportunities were restricted to whites and a few Negros of “high brown” complexion, disallowing for the learning, development, and upward mobility of the vast majority blacks. The education system therefore became a virtual trap that kept the oppressed poor in place, away from learning, enterprise, and social mobility. It is to be noted that at Emancipation in 1838 there were only a handful of schools on the island – Wolmer's, Manning's, Rusea's, and St Jago high schools.
Thanks largely to the churches, there began, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a push to establish more schools which offered elite British education. However, they catered mainly to the children of the privileged, with only a tiny percentage of black children having access beyond the elementary level.
Access to education as a means to escape the poverty of the plantations was a sore point of the agitations, culminating in the unrest of 1938. The colonial response was callously and predictably set out in the report of the Royal Commission that followed, which advocated for “…an end of the illogical and wasteful system which permits education of a community predominantly engaged in agriculture to be based on a literary curriculum…” In short, poor black children had no need for learning that surpassed the physical prowess of muscles and, certainly, no need for cerebral development.
Thankfully, our founding fathers at Independence not only disagreed, but went on a primary school building binge to address the vexed issue of less than half of the nation's children having access to primary education.
The Common Entrance Exam began in 1957, and in 1963 there was a mandate that 70 per cent of high school placements be from public primary schools. However, the few high school places available meant an early end to the educational pursuits of too many beyond post-primary schooling.
So junior secondary schools were constructed across the island with a mixed focus on grammar and skills training, the latter ostensibly to prepare students for entry into the growing industrial build-out in mining and manufacturing generally. But they soon became, by and large, redundant spaces given the advent of globalisation and the emergence of technology-driven service sectors, which the schools were not equipped to deal with. The result was a steady, endless wasting of a significant percentage of our young minds, forever lost to the dreadful finality of the denial of traditional high school education. This was how junior secondary schools became the new face of our two-tiered, discriminatory approach to education, not unlike, and perhaps unwittingly perpetuating the stratification of “haves and have nots” which was inherited at Independence.
Sadly, the effort to rescue secondary schooling has foundered. For the decision to rename them as high schools without retrofitting faculties or facilities spelt doom, and its fallacy cruelly exposed by the simplest comparison of output from traditional and newly “crowned” high schools. The comparisons point dreadfully to lives lost and a continued haemorrhaging of hope, bordering on an outrage and, arguably, a crime against a class of Jamaicans, since the children of the privileged never attend these schools.
Education, once lawfully forbidden, is now being denied to many through poor, inadequate school plants and programmes. So, while a few gifted are excelling and moving ahead, many more are failing and being left behind. Just imagine that, of 40,000 12 year olds entering secondary schools annually, less than 20 per cent leave with five or more Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) passes or an equivalent skill certification – and of that number (40,000) 20 per cent, perhaps as much as 60 per cent, end their scholastic pursuits.
The National Security Minister Horace Chang and his successors will continue to lament the ever-growing recruitment pool of gangs so long as their education counterparts continue to be distracted by the proverbial flea in a dog's ear.
The failures to address such conspicuous failing points to our blinkered political leadership – closed-eyed and unaware of their locus behind relevance.
The massive growth in technology over the past 30 years demands a corresponding response in how to better leverage and enable our best national resource, our people. It has been reported that a whopping 54.4 per cent of Jamaicans are under 30 years old and a staggering 30 per cent under 18 years. Education and training are indubitably the vehicles through which we must channel our national efforts to create a stable social environment. But our education system remains a relic of the pre-Independence set-up – the Education Regulation is over 40 years old – with its focus on grammar schooling.
And so, the teaching of food and nutrition is geared towards the not-so-bright, despite its being pivotal to our country's crucial, world-beating hospitality sector. What if we were to introduce a reggae music curriculum at the secondary level, focusing on areas such as lyrical and rhythmic composition, arrangement, production, management, and marketing? Can we dare dream of the explosion of creativity in music and dance, as well as the growth of the entertainment sector?
When one artiste “buss”, a whole family and more are lifted out of poverty. Reggae music has beguiled the world and our wealth-creation possibilities from it are endless. Just think of how much our music and the industry around it has grown since Sleng Teng, our first digital rhythm. The creative genius of our people, coupled with technology can, and will, expand opportunities for more, thereby creating a society in which more can share in the bounty of our collective talents and endeavours.
Green technology for the harnessing and distribution of solar and wind energy is an emerging area for growth and job creation and is the focus of the future, which our country is well situated to exploit.
Am I going bonkers to think that it is worth exposing our young children to green curricula from primary through to their secondary schooling in order to provide meaningful job opportunities that will lead more of our young from the ganglands?
It is through these prisms that we must view our long embrace of violence, its current trajectory, and our politico-governance responses. The thinking that crime can be subdued without addressing its causes is imbecilic.
It shows a lack of judgement for the Prime Minister Andrew Holness to assert that he has “solved the security problem”, yet seeks to deploy the security forces to deal with our “social malaise”. Likewise, Peter Bunting, the Opposition's long-tenured, failing point man on national security, remains in a rapturously, hallucinated bubble, from where he froths his fix of more police with more pay and more guns for more people in a society under the siege of the gun. This chronic absurdity is unbeatable.
I hope the women (and men, too) who are victims (or potential victims) of domestic violence are taking note. But then again, no one takes Bunting seriously on security since his inglorious surrender and dubious call for “divine intervention” whilst holding the post of security minister. I've always, since, wondered how he wanted God to intervene – was it by launching plagues, missiles, or drone strikes at our gunmen? Suffice it to say, God has ignored him, but we are all seemingly stuck with him despite his almost 13 years of tenureship.
The times certainly demands that we stand up and speak out. A time for democratic and organised resistance to the tyranny of political ineptitude that stalks and haunts our country.
Delford G Morgan is an attorney-at-Law. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org