Parents have no right to cherry-pick schools
Minister Thwaites is to be highly commended for his courageous move in Parliament on February 23 when he announced measures to be implemented in order to curtail the business of our high schools 'buying' sport talent. He showed the testicular fortitude necessary if we are to bring about meaningful change in an environment of partisan politics and mindless fanatical support for sports, encouraged by some of our leaders.
One must expect hostility from principals, coaches and past students whose schools benefit and who pursue relentlessly the glory and the funds that flow from their win-at-all-costs, the ends-justifying-the-means, insular and selfish approach.
I hope the bureaucracy in the ministry will allow this revised policy to survive and to flourish. Remember, in the time that it was being practised, the heinous crime of slavery was not against the rules! Rules must change as our consciousness and understanding increase.
While the minister has not gone far enough, he has taken a small, potentially significant step in the right direction. He has sought to stem the most extreme abuse of the transfer system by our schools for sports purposes.
Of course, his actions have elicited the expected scare tactics of those win-at-all-costs adherents, hell-bent on using our schools as sports academies or sports clubs. One of the approaches used by these myth makers is to scream about a threat to an inalienable right of a parent to send the child to whatever government-aided school he/she determines is in the best interest of the child.
Some misguided souls have been bleating inanely about the minister "subverting the authority of the parent by removing their ability to choose the environment which would be best suitable for the positive enhancement of their own child and circumventing my right to make decisions in the best interest of my child". What utter rubbish!
From whence comes this inalienable right? An inalienable right of parents would have to be exercisable by all parents. This alleged inalienable right to send one's child to whichever school the parent chooses is inoperable, and unenforceable, since no one school can accept all students. Hence the need for a certain protocol to be followed in deciding which child gets the chance to enter any given school. This holds throughout the world, in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America and even the USA, the citadel of recruiting for sports purposes by educational institutions, where the main factor for deciding a youngster's school is his/her place of residence.
When the main factor for deciding entry to schools is based on where one lives, is that stripping parents of their rights? When it is required that a student achieves a certain academic performance to attend preferred schools, is that stripping parents of their rights? Have schools and parents been abusing their rights by buying and selling studentsreminiscent of child labour?
Students all over the world must satisfy certain protocols for entry to government-run schools. This revisiting of an existing protocol by the minister was brought about because of the wanton abuse of parents and schools.
Unfortunately, this episode shows clearly that the society cannot trust some schools and parents to do the right thing by themselves. The society cannot trust them to self-regulate and so the ministry is forced to play a more active role. Once again, this is an example of why the trust deficit in our country is as bad as it is.
What needs to be done, with rare exceptions, is that the practice of our schools recruiting youngsters for sports purposes should be banned, and where it is found to have occurred, the school should be heavily sanctioned.
Our schools must stop importing performance-enhancing students for sports, just as we do not expect our youngsters to take performance-enhancing drugs. This deviant behaviour in our schools must no longer be the norm. We must stop using sports prowess to move students up the academic scale. That represents a double standard.
Already our schools are filled with youngsters who need all the help they can get. They don't have to be imported! It defeats the whole purpose and spirit of sports. Our schools are not sports academies where the entry requirement is, understandably, sports prowess. If we continue to use them as such, we will, among other things, continue to discriminate unfairly against our poor, young citizens who have earned, at great sacrifice, the right to a basic education at a given school, but have latent or no sports talent or interest.
Newer schools at a disadvantage
Recruiting also unjustly places the majority of our schools that are newer, less prestigious and poorer, at a distinct disadvantage by robbing them of their sports stars (who they discovered, nurtured and developed at great cost), and thus the benefits of success.
Our traditional schools cannot educate all our children as we say we want to. Hence we must do all we can to raise the level of the others. Taking away their sports stars is a step in the wrong direction. We must have our schools focus exclusively on the formal education of our young citizens, including the inculcation of pro-social values and attitudes.
A recent (December 2014) OECD study showed that economic inequality significantly curbs economic growth, and that the lack of formal education has a direct relationship to inequality in a country. Jamaica is highly placed on the inequality rankings. For us to change this, education must be the story Jamaica tells about itself. Jamaica must celebrate education. Education must be priority number one, two and three. This overarching focus on competitive sports in our schools is counterproductive.
Since sports is so important to us (not unlike other countries), let us organise youth sports so we may have a win-win situation. Let us develop sports institutions that cater to youth development and find other creative ways to deal with sports so that there is no conflict of interest between the education of our youth and sports.