Systemically creating losers
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites has announced that he intends to take steps to bring to an end the practice by some mostly traditional high schools of 'buying' athletes and footballers away from lower-ranked secondary schools, in order to boost the buying school's chances of winning the Manning Cup, Olivier Shield, and the high-school athletics championships.
I am surprised at the substantial numbers of the articulate minority who see nothing wrong with the practice. To listen to them, it is a win-win-win-win situation:
1. The athlete wins, since he gets to attend a traditional high school with a better academic programme than he could access with his (usually low) GSAT grades.
2. His/her family wins, since they immediately achieve financial relief from school expenses, and often benefit from cash payments or new refrigerators and the like.
3. The brand-name school wins, because they win more matches and medals, and may take home the cup or shield.
4. Jamaica benefits, because some of our high schools become nurseries for sports and athletic talent that boosts our international performance at the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
How, they argue, could anyone object to this win-win-win-win scenario where everyone benefits? It just goes to show that a grammar-school - and even a university - education does not cure short-sightedness.
The real question is, who loses? We know who wins, but is anyone put at a disadvantage by athlete buying? Decidedly, yes! There are thousands more losers than winners, and this is the real bone of contention.
It is the duty of every school administration to develop to full potential the talents of the students therein, including their intellectual, cultural, athletic, moral and spiritual abilities. If a school has 1,000 students, it is possible for all to succeed academically. But a football team can only have 11 on the field and a small number of substitutes.
If my school imports a dozen boys on the basis of their footballing prowess, and puts them into a football development programme, I and the 999 others who came into the school because of our academic prowess will have no chance of having our latent football skills nurtured, because the school is focusing on the ballers they have imported.
In this scenario, my school has neglected its responsibility to the 1,000 of us, and we, the 1,000 academic students, who may also have undeveloped football talent, are the losers.
Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham, who entered St George's College through the Common Entrance Examination, succeeded both in academics and football. He gained a PhD in chemistry and became captain of Jamaica's football team. Suppose in his day St George's College imported all its ballers? Would Muggy have captained the school Manning Cup team, or the All-Manning team, or the All-Schools team, or the Jamaica team? How many Muggy Grahams are out there who excel academically but are losers because their school buys ballers?
In the meantime, the dozen or so imported ballers know they are there to play football, and may choose to put out only minimal academic effort. Their pass mark (40%) was considered dismal failure in my time. The school has also neglected its responsibility for their intellectual development.
It would be interesting to know how many of the bought ballers make it to the Premier League or are signed by an overseas club. How many bought track stars make it to the international circuit? The best of them all - Usain Bolt - was not a bought player; he made it globally from his rural secondary school, William Knibb, in Trelawny.
There are other losers: the academically substandard 'ballers take the school spaces of those who would have otherwise made it into high school.
Level playing field
The vast majority of secondary and high schools in Jamaica are the losers in this system we have created. Many more schools would have well-developed football and track programmes if students were allowed to grow where they are planted. And there would be gainful employment for sports coaches who would have a real chance to win these cups and trophies from a level playing field.
So I wish the minister of education success. His decision will not go over well with those who wish to buy advantage on the sports field and athletics track. It is his task to turn more losers into winners - both students, coaches and schools.
n Peter Espeut is a sociologist and school board chairman. Email feedback to email@example.com.