Ronald Thwaites | Back to basics
The children in the summer school don't know how to pray or when to keep silent or how to form a straight line. But they know how to dance, to 'cut eye' and to 'chups' their teeth in scorn at one another.
Although most of them are about to enter high school, most have never been to Sabbath or Sunday school. All, even the poorest, have been exposed to cable TV but have little knowledge or interest in Jamaican affairs - except for the dancehall artistes.
"Sir, you is Michael Manley son?" Or, "You is Bruce Golden?"
It's early years yet, but most of them want to be airline pilots, paediatricians, forensic scientists or policemen. Almost all think that America would be the best place to live because "you can get t'ings". Getting 'things' is what they consider life to be about.
With few exceptions, their GSAT grades in language arts and numeracy are below 60 per cent. Everyone wants a tablet and no one has been to the library or read an entire book recently, if ever.
They all wanted to attend a church-sponsored high school because of the brand name and the reputation for sports or some other extra-curricular activities. There is disappointment about their assignments.
"Sir, you can get him/her a transfer to Campion, Wolmer's or KC"?
Values and attitudes programme
In the absence of any effective values and attitudes programme coming from government sources, we are beginning our own in Central Kingston, working with parents and teachers to use the orientation period before everything gets swamped by the crammed curriculum, to start a programme instilling punctuality, respect, honesty, cooperation and order.
Every school should try its own variant of such a project. The social deficit remains the major obstacle to effective educational outcomes.
Every church ought to create what Peter Phillips calls a "community of care" for the school(s) they either own or sponsor or are in their vicinity. Persons of goodwill must reinforce the efforts of teachers and parents, mentor vulnerable students and lift the moral tone of the institution.
Up to two generations ago, the Christian churches played a much more active and helpful role in education than they do now. Those functions must be renewed and restored now if thoroughgoing transformation is to happen.
School boards and principals must claim more autonomy and accept more responsibility. The community-centred school was, and should become again, the core of the national movement.
Since there is no other positive influence, the nation must rely on faith-based organisations, despite all their shortcomings, to play a major part in school life, not for narrow denominational ends, but by presence, precept and example to rivet into the hearts, minds and behaviour of young people, a vision of self, relationship and national identity which is coming from nowhere else.
This is why the current obsession among some religious people about homosexuality is so disappointing. Stop majoring in the minors. Why not spend our efforts to encourage faithful, loving, sacrificial relationships among all persons, regardless of gender?
That's going back to basics to which those summer school young people might listen - and follow.
- Ronald Thwaites is Central Kingston member of parliament and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.