Ronald Thwaites | It's the discipline
The prime minister just does not seem to understand. Last Wednesday, we were debating the amendment to the Defence Act to provide for the establishment of a Jamaica National Service Corps.
This is a good idea intended to provide opportunity for a few hundred of the better-adjusted and accomplished young people to receive training and orientation prior to enlistment in the army and other security-related careers.
But what about the remainder of the more than 150,000 unattached youth, I asked, who desperately need something to do and even more so, the discipline and character reformation that a period of military training provides.
Dealing with this expanding cohort, dangerous to themselves, real risks to social peace and economic growth, constitute the most acute national security challenge.
The plans outlined by Andrew Holness to offer some idle youth remedial education and skills training are inadequate both in quantity and scope.
No matter how long you keep them in school, for most of the 20,000 young Jamaicans who leave below matriculation standards each year, their crippling problems are low self-esteem, poor social skills, and undeveloped appreciation for discipline and order.
Families, churches, communities and schools are trying, but are manifestly unable to cope.
It is these deficits that have hampered schoolwork and frustrated teachers. What is going on at Cumberland High is not isolated and is a prime example of a problem that must be solved in our time and within our resources, both human and financial.
How to staunch the flow of youth who are too poorly socialised to be useful to themselves will be the subject of other articles. To deal with the existing numbers is where the Jamaica Defence Force comes in.
The army is the most effective institution of behaviour modification in Jamaica today. You misunderstand, Prime Minister. No one is contending that the soldiers are idle or are not doing useful things behind the scenes. The need of the moment, however, is for them to be more engaged in crime prevention and productivity enhancement as a primary way to fight crime and enhance human capacity.
As of this June, all young persons leaving school who are not sequencing to employment, migration or tertiary training ought to be enrolled in a programme of military training, orientation to a skill, and positive socialisation for at least six months, better still, for a year.
Extend that to numbers of those idle on the streets, being hungry and angry, and getting pregnant in the yards, and watch the guns rust.
All of the youth opportunity plans outlined in the prime minister's Budget presentation need to be augmented by strict routines, hard work, physically demanding schedules, appropriate training, rewards, sanction and value suffusion, which government agencies, church, business and civic groups are quite capable of combining to put together in short order.
If there is one effort that should, and could, unite the political parties and, indeed, the nation, in a purposeful combined way, it is the task of infusing a new and enthusiastic ethic of discipline in our land.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.