Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Ronald Thwaites can’t parent my child

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM
In this 2013 file photo, Education Minister Ronald Thwaites raps with students of Mile Gully and May Day high schools.

"The most important thing that we can ever be in life is not to be prime minister or Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann [Fraser-Pryce] or anybody else, but it is to be a good parent."

- Ronald Thwaites

 

The debate now engulfing the public sphere, catalysed by the recent pronouncements in Parliament by Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, has illuminated the polarised views on education of academia and athletes.

As part of the new policy direction of the Ministry of Education, the transfer of a student for any reason must follow the normal procedures as determined by the Education Regulations (28). Principals of both the sending and the receiving schools, along with the parents, must sign consent forms before presentation to the Ministry of Education for approval of the request to transfer a student.

Common sense will dictate that in any system, present, past or future, the parent/guardian would be integral to the process and would, in a majority of cases, initiate the transfer of their charge. And, as protocol dictates, only the sending and receiving schools would need to acquiesce to the request to permit a transfer, contingent on the availability of space.

Therefore, the real shift in policy lies in the ministry's insistence upon being the arbiter, assisted by ISSA, of who is truly deserving of a transfer. To this end, a clearing house is to be established to determine the future of a child they have never met.

In September 2012, while opening the debate on the National Parenting Support Commission Act, Minister Thwaites stated, "Being a parent is the most important role that any adult can play in Jamaica." I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, inherent in that role is the right of the parent to make decisions, in their opinion, that are in keeping with the best interests of their child.

The minister added: "Simple things such as making sure children are at home by a certain hour in the evening will assist with clearing up some of the mayhem that goes on at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre, and in many other parish capitals where young people gather in unsupervised situations for hours, forgoing homework, forgoing reasonable nutrition, and finding themselves in compromising circumstances."

The minister, by his pronouncements, is clearly of the view that parenting skills - or perhaps the lack thereof - are largely responsible for the dangerous and oftentimes antisocial behaviour displayed by some of our children. So in one breath, the minister is laying down the mantle to parents to take charge of their children and then, conversely, by an act of Parliament, subverting the authority of the parent by removing their ability to choose the environment that would be best suitable for the positive enhancement of their own child.

I can't lay claim to being privy to the thought process of the minister, nor can I with any certainty declare that the policy shift was ill-conceived. I can say, however, that circumventing my right to make decisions in the best interest of my child is not a position to which I am likely to lend my support.

So, in an attempt to curtail the 'buying' of students (I deliberately did not use student athletes), my inalienable rights as a parent are to be stripped of me. Now, as a parent, I am expected to pay school fees, buy books and lend support to the administrative structure of a school with which neither my child nor I have any interest in being associated. It is not clear to me how this predicament will raise the morale of the parents, students and staff of this institution and lift it to a position of prominence.

Earlier, I shied away from using the term student athlete because in reality there is no such thing. In a school there are students, period. Some will be more inclined, based on their skill set, to pursue with fervour a course in academics, while others with separate skills sets will pursue and possibly excel at athletics. We do not refer to the student pursuing 10 subjects in CSEC as a student academic, but we gladly refer to the student excelling in physical education as a student athlete, as if somehow those abilities make him less of a student than the academic.

If we examine this phenomenon further, we will see the obvious discrimination that is meted out to these students who excel at physical education. A straight 'A' student transferring from one school of any calibre to a receiving school of whatever reputation would never be asked to forgo a year of examinations. Yet the gifted athlete is asked to sit out a year of competition, retarding their development to achieve God knows what.

In fact, it is my belief that ISSA, the architect of this iniquitous regime, is either unaware of what its mandate should be or is simply overreaching its mandate in the attempt to achieve the status of a governing body for sports. The mandate of ISSA should be to organise sporting activities between schools. The composition of the teams representing these schools should not be within ISSA's remit, except where there are obvious breaches in the rules, for example, the use of overage players.

 

'FIX MY CHILD'

 

Only recently, I was approached by a parent requesting my help to have her child transferred from an inner-city school of arguably infamous repute to another less maligned. I have no knowledge of the child's academic prowess and I saw no obvious physical traits that would lend themselves to athletic excellence. That is, of course, not to say those qualities don't exist.

The parent was extremely concerned, as she had been informed that her son's best friend was involved in crime and was "locking guns" for his crew. She wanted her son to have no part of it, and rightly so. She sought to have him removed from the environment and the principal flatly refused to allow the transfer. Now if this child falls prey to criminality and the police come knocking on his door, who is going to accept the responsibility for his demise?

Mr Minister, your job is to ensure that all schools are of an equitable quality to remove the desire for parents to transfer their child. It is not to tell me how to be a good or useful parent to my child, although encouragement and/or constructive criticism will always be welcome. So, please, do your job and allow me to do mine, which - as you pointed out - is the most important thing in life.

- C. Barrow Williams is an IT entrepreneur. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and cbarrowwilliams