For more than a full year, Jamaica's formal school system has been thrown out of whack by the pandemic caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some students have been able to access face-to-face classes, the vast majority have been forced to stay home and attend school online.
In many cases, there has been a low attendance for online classes due to a number of reasons closely linked to financial and socio-economic constraints.
Clive “Busy” Campbell, head of the Masters & Celebrities group, that has been hosting the “Bring back the love after Labour” event for some 25 years, made an impassioned plea for attention to be paid to a generation of children that is on the brink of being lost.
Campbell made the appeal at the usual awards ceremony to honour people who have made significant contributions to Jamaican society, after apologising for the cancellation of the football matches for a second year running.
“Today, I want us to focus on youth engagement. We are all aware that in-classroom teaching has been suspended due to the pandemic and classes are held online. Unfortunately, we took too long to get it right. Only a fraction of the students are benefitting from online classes.”
Pointing directly to the students who come from marginalised homes, Campbell said that their circumstances simply did not cater to online learning.
“The reality is that most of the children in the inner-city are unsupervised and guess what…they are on the streets without a purpose. If they do logon to a class, it is for a short period. We are in jeopardy of losing a generation, one that will not be as literate as we would like. This is a reality.
“In most cases, their environment is just not conducive to online learning. It is as simple as that. Take a walk in a tenement yard and you will understand what I am saying. There is no quiet space, there is no desk for the child to sit around to concentrate on class. Then there is the music in the background and guess what? You can't ask for it to be turned down.”
Campbell called for a unified approach to solving the problem, suggesting that it is beyond the capabilities of just a few, to do so.
“If each of us can engage even one of these children by encouraging them to get back in the school groove, then we may be able to save a generation. It is a fact many may never return to the classroom.”
Highlighting the new reality caused by the devastation to the economy, he suggested that some children may have already been lost due to their current circumstances.
“Circumstances at home may force the child to stay away from school when face-to-face classes begin. The mother has lost her job, the father is laid off and the next best thing is — the hustle. Our children are fast becoming hustlers, as they have to bring something to the table; it is called survival.
“Help where you can, engage them in meaningful conversations, constantly remind them that education is the only legal way to get themselves out of poverty. Encourage them so that they can have hope.”
Campbell called upon all who are in a position to help to do so, to care for the youth, as the consequences of ignoring this pandemic within the pandemic, may be even more far-reaching than the one, we are currently experiencing.
“Believe it or not, this pandemic has caused a lot of upheaval in our daily lives. Things are just no longer the same, cash is now king for those who are able to put their hands on it; for others, dark days may be ahead.
“It is only through caring, that we can overcome this together. Let us do everything in our power to put the youth back on track, as none of us here would like to experience the outcome of a semi-literate generation,” he said.
This year Masters & Celebrities honoured Jamaica Football Federation President Michael Ricketts and Dr Orville Taylor for their contributions to football and media, respectively.