Let them carry water! Whiners must give Ronnie a break
Meleisa Witter, Guest Columnist
Minister Ronald Thwaites has a job very few persons, even those with much testicular fortitude, would begrudge. He seems to have got on the wrong side of almost every disparate group one can imagine - from the teachers in his ministry, to the parents of the students he caters to, and every other 'waggonist' looking for a cause to defend.
Most of the comments posted in response to the Gleaner article 'Flush fears' (August 20, 2014) ranged from ridicule to downright savagery, and the anger and annoyance were definitely palpable. But I daresay his detractors have missed the larger point. In one fell swoop, the minister of education is being blamed for the deficiencies in every aspect of the Government when, in fact, his purview lies with the matter of education, and I do believe that it is out of his concern for those whom he seeks to educate that the comments were made.
Undoubtedly, Minister Thwaites must be tired of having to report to the country that students are failing. Every single day, they are kept away from school because 'one pan knack', it is more likely that the report will remain unchanged, or if it does, it will be pointing to a worsening of the situation. The time is now dry and there is no water, so keep the children home. In a few weeks or so, as the areas of extremely low pressure over warm ocean waters form a hurricane, or several of them, another reason to keep them home some more is presented.
In the very powerful publication Profile of Excellence, co-authored by veteran journalist Ian Boyne and career strategist and author Glenford Smith, the stories speak profoundly of people who are at the top of their fields today, extraordinary achievers, who faced so many daunting situations from very early in life that if their only challenge was to carry water to school in the instance that they needed to clean up after themselves, they would perhaps not even have been eligible for Profile.
Where are the solutions?
This is what Minister Thwaites understands fundamentally, I believe, and what more of his detractors need to contemplate. As a nation, we are always ready to castigate. Is there any place for helpful solutions? Of about 30 comments I cursorily scanned, only about three revealed any that would be considered reasonable or helpful. The others, typical of our hater mentality, had evidently just happily found an avenue to broadcast their negativity and launch an attack, Courage the cowardly dog style. When will we rise above our inherent, intrinsic, negative grinding as a nation?
This may not be the ideal place or time to publicise my very bucolic beginnings, but in a bid to authenticate my later comments, I will proudly indicate that I spent many years carrying water, mind you, for preparation to go to school, and not necessarily to take to school with me as being proposed by Minister Thwaites. Nevertheless, not only did I survive, it made me stronger, physically and mentally.
What Jamaica needs right now are people who can see a problem and recognise that an opportunity is in there somewhere. It was the great Mahatma Gandhi who said, "Adversity is the mother of progress." Why must we kick against the pricks always? Where are the solution specialists and the people who refuse to quit and lie down and die at a time such as this?
Yes, I hear you: "Carrying the water is one thing; potentially exposing the children to all kinds of illnesses and diseases resulting from the lack of 'running' water is another," you retort. "Let them carry the water," I say! If we got sick and died that easily, we would not have survived beyond the dark ages when doctors were butchers and sterilisation was archaic or unheard of.
Every time it is convenient, we repeat the mantra 'Education is the key to success', but as soon as we can, we look for an excuse to disrupt the cycle. The holidays in Jamaica are already too long, lending themselves to a lack of productivity in our students. Over the holidays, children either forget or unlearn everything they were taught the term before and have to relearn before moving forward. No extension away from school can be considered a good thing.
And to worsen the situation, it is not as though the parents who are protesting are going to be teaching their children at home. What about the areas where there is no water shortage? Should they wait on the other schools so the syllabus can be completed together, or should they go ahead? When GSAT, GNAT, CSEC and CAPE results come out, there will be another hue and cry about some schools causing children to fail because the syllabus was incomplete.
Come on, people! Take a look at the big picture. As the late great Stephen Covey said, "Begin with the end in mind." It is time to awaken from this stupor. This yen to cause a ruckus over everything that is said and begrudge politicians and their SUVs needs to stop. It certainly will not put more water in the pipes and will not cause your child to learn while at home on an extended holiday.
If you are a parent, you can determine what you really want for your child. A sheltered little life, which is in no way reminiscent of, or preparatory for, the great big world, or an opportunity to embrace a challenge and move ahead with vim, vigour and vitality.
Give them a story to tell their children. I tell my son about the many (10) miles I walked back and forth to a primary school every day since age six, and which propelled me to develop a keen desire to enter St Elizabeth's most prestigious high school that provided boarding. In my year, I was only one of three students who indeed passed for Hampton School. I was the most 'disadvantaged', having to not only walk the 10 miles to and from school, but also to walk one mile, prior to going to school, to a catchment tank to collect water for bathing. At times, this would be done without the day's meals to boot.
But God made us resilient and we need to stop behaving as though we break so easily. And yes, some do, but the broken ones cannot be nation builders, and that is what Jamaica needs right now. But they have to be 'created' from early.
This situation presents a great opportunity for the nation to come together. Parents with vehicles, your neighbour's daughter whom you usually drive past wearing a similar uniform as your precious little one, your windows rolled up, offer her a lift with her five-gallon bottle of water. The idlers on the street can use this as an opportunity to be of some value to the society. Instead of digging out your 'hand middle' so early, help a little one with the water whose bag seems heavy.
I don't expect responses to this article will be any kinder than the ones hurled at the minister. Nevertheless, I support your stance, Minister Thwaites. The reality dictates that water or not, every child can learn, and every child must learn.