Ronald Thwaites | More back-to-school truths
The best programme this Government has proposed is the early stimulation of all our children, with emphasis on the first 1,000 days of life - that is, from conception through birth and at least up to the second birthday. Both during and after that, attendance at properly structured creches should supplement home care until enrolment in infant school.
Every bit of the science of child development confirms how definitive these early years are for future behaviour and achievement. Note that decisive development begins in the womb. That is where human life begins. Government is following the truth of science. So must lawmakers.
But after all the knowledge and talk, where are the hundreds of specially trained social workers, volunteers and family interventionists to help ensure that our yearly 50,000 or so newborns and their mothers are spared the neglect and violence so common nowadays?
This is where to put the money if we want better school outcomes, a highly trained and motivated workforce, and the chance of social peace. Instead, we are spending it on remediation, corruption, posturing and states of emergency.
Certification of five per cent of basic schools is good, but is no guarantee of the quality introduction to life and education required, especially in the national context of very weak families and increasing poverty. Less than a half of our early childhood practitioners have any, or any adequate, training. The truth is that the best investment for national security and economic prosperity is to have a highly motivated teacher and sufficient appropriate food in all - not some - basic and infant schools.
MANDATORY BIRTH REGISTRATION
Last week came the revelation that almost 30 per cent of our children are treated with the life-compromising contempt of their fathers refusing to acknowledge them on their birth certificates.
The last time this came up in Parliament, the prime minister, while agreeing to the principle of mandatory registration, said something about 'other concerns' that would delay legislative change. What concerns could be greater than the blight we continue to impose on the most vulnerable and most valuable? And what do the churches, the Opposition, the women's advocacy groups have to say?
Instead of intoning arrogantly about effete law and threatening school officials with criminal sanctions, face the truth that schools - all schools - need a financial contribution from every parent who possibly can, in order to fund quality education. That is why even primary schools have issued vouchers.
Government should be fostering a culture of personal responsibility for what is of value while vigorously protecting the weakest, instead of courting cheap and unsustainable populism.
This is the same mentality underlying opposition to the action of one of the finest church-sponsored, board-directed and quality-led high schools, Calabar, last week. Instead of countermanding the school and weakening the principal, the ministry should acknowledge the danger posed by, and to, students who, after every effort, cannot benefit from what Calabar has to offer, and either assist their placement elsewhere or finance an alternative programme for them within the school.
Tell me, what has been achieved by promoting to fifth form, students who do not have the foundation to succeed in the programme being offered? Without more, all you have done is to postpone confronting a child's problem for another expensive year.
The truth is that the Calabar predicament exists in every school in Jamaica. It is the consequence not of a school's heartless cruelty or reputation-saving, but usually of poor socialisation and inadequate parental engagement. The Baptists are not rogue educators. They would never kick out a student who was really trying, but still underperforming. Most often, avoiding the formal expulsion procedure is to the advantage of the young person, who avoids a drawn-out hearing and a permanent blot on their school record.
Last, please show us the survey instrument and results which show that all but a few primary schools are ready and well equipped for the Primary Exit Profile. This is the tale of a good plan being compromised by poor introduction and inadequate implementation. The truth is that many teachers have not become sufficiently accustomed to the new standard curriculum to be able to prepare fifth- and sixth-graders for a new type of examination based on what they themselves have as yet not grasped.
Notwithstanding all the above and more, let us give thanks for the universal and inclusive school system that we have inherited and helped create. Let us encourage every student to do their best, attend every day, and make the best of the opportunities available.
- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.