Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Starving tertiary students

Published:Monday | March 9, 2015 | 12:00 AM

It's heart-wrenching when youngsters with uncommon ambition are thwarted in achieving their goals because of a lack of funding or support. I know someone who is now a Jamaican Olympic gold medallist who came to me as a young teenager because of foot and ankle pain.

After examination, it dawned on me to ask what kind of running shoes were being used. I was totally floored when I learnt that this young athlete was competing and winning races in regular school shoes.

Fortunately, that situation was corrected and the rest is history. But what if elite athletes were never assisted to get the very basic equipment needed to improve upon their natural abilities and to realise their goals? Our country would have lost all that talent and would have been much worse off today.

I know that Jamaica gets all excited about sports. It has become a big-money industry that benefits the athletes, their immediate associates, perhaps their family, and sometimes, indirectly, our country.

But what most people don't realise is that our real treasure lies in the hard-working, everyday Jamaicans who mundanely slog through a veritable lifetime of thankless drudgery that makes our homeland grow and prosper. These people also need help and support.

I was very saddened to learn that there are much more than just a few tertiary-level students who cannot afford transportation, clothes, books, laptops and even regular meals. One such young man shared his story with me.

 

distant dreams

 

He grew up in downtown Kingston, one of eight children, with a father who played no part in his life and an unemployed mother who used to work occasionally as a bartender. He went to Calabar Infant and Primary School and was the only one from his class to go to a traditional high school (Camperdown). Many other classmates either dropped out of primary school or high school. Some hang out on the streets, and one, who started off with better opportunities than he, is now a criminal.

He completed the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exam but had to work odd jobs washing cars and painting walls to raise the money to go on to sixth form. However, he was forced to drop out after one year of chemistry, physics and Caribbean studies at the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examinations level because of severe financial problems.

He wanted to become a 'medic' (part of the team that shows up at medical emergencies) in the Jamaica Defence Force. However, the slow pace of processing new applicants led him to pursue his second career choice, teaching science. He chose a university that offers CAPE equivalence, but poverty rendered going there a distant dream.

 

magnanimity

 

He ended up idling on the streets and was noticed by his member of parliament and minister of education, Ronald Thwaites. Minister Thwaites performed an extraordinarily magnanimous act by funding his first year of tuition at the university. He also arranged an academic scholarship for tuition for the other years, provided that he maintains a 'B' average or better.

This very grateful full-time student attends his chosen university but sought a full-time night job because he could not afford transportation, books, a laptop, clothes or daily food. He was struggling to get to campus and was hungry all day. Now, he must maintain a 'B' average while studying all day and working all night to stay in school. Obviously, this will negatively impact his academic performance.

His secondary school assisted with food. However, his tertiary facility is only able to assist a few students, once or twice a month, because of a paucity of funding.

I hope that tertiary institutions will quickly establish and manage assistance programmes (through governmental and non-governmental agencies, and donations from kind companies and individuals), for the many students who are suffering immensely in silence and sometimes must withdraw.

n Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.