Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Doing it right the first time

Published:Sunday | April 30, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Ronald Thwaites
In this May 29, 2014 photograph, a student of Genius Early Childhood Institution sports a policeman's uniform during Career Day. Good values and attitudes are as important as academic education, argues Ronald Thwaites.
In this March 30, 2015 Gleaner photograph, children from the St Paul's Chapelton Early Childhood Institution flash smiles in the Clarendon community. More money should be pumped into early childhood education, writes Ronald Thwaites.
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Effective education, training, and appropriate values are the only foundations of advancement for the people of Central Kingston and the majority underclass of Jamaica's population.

That two-thirds of our school leavers cannot matriculate to the tertiary sector or skilled work and are often gravely socially inept is evidence of the systemic incapacity of the current educational order to create the base for social peace, individual progress, and national progress.

Current policy and practice, reflecting more outdated assumptions about social order and the purposes of education than political preferences, cannot take us where we need to go.

Government is spending more money and effort on remediating embedded inadequacies than on doing it right the first time. Early childhood education remains the Cinderella of the education spend.

If you add up everything up to grade four, it is approximately $6 billion of a $95-billion budget. The figures speak for themselves.

The education pyramid, which is upside-down, needs to be turned right-side up, with more attention being paid at the base where life-time habits are formed and personalities developed. We must do it right the first time.

The consequence will be to minimise the billions we have to outlay, largely ineffectually, to correct the deficiencies of literacy, numeracy, and social ethics later on.

The diminution of social capital is the main challenge facing the nation nowadays.

Because our families, communities, and schools are not doing it right the first time, fully half of our children enter school unready for education, lacking those personal and social habits born of appropriate values and home-training to support effective teaching and learning.

The nation's social crisis is the parent of our economic woes.

 

STRONG FAMILIES

 

More than a third of our children lack a strong relationship with their fathers. Women, mothers, nearly 20 per cent before reaching maturity themselves, are cruelly, unfairly burdened with the responsibility of raising the young, mostly without support, emotional or financial.

This is the greatest example of gender-based violence. Yet we seldom talk about it here in this chamber or encourage the change in adult behaviour that causes this outrage.

Will this Parliament, for the cause of humanity and national security, affirm the precept that redressing history, Jamaican men and women must not have a child unless there is a commitment to together raise that child to maturity?

Do we have the courage to admit to ourselves and act accordingly that you cannot build a progressive and prosperous society without strong family structures?

We blight our children's' prospects for life and colt our collective hopes for sustained wholesome growth when we don't do right by them the first time: when they turn up at school lacking habits of respect; poor nutritional practices; exposed to pornography and violence at home, on the street, and through the media.

Absenteeism from school is winked at. It is a terrible tragedy to miss even a day of school. Over one-fifth of our students are absent daily as poverty increases.

 

COMPULSORY ATTENDANCE

 

We must immediately invoke the provisions of the Education Code to declare the whole of Jamaica a compulsory attendance zone and assign more of our surplus teachers, already in the establishment, to serve as social workers to ensure compliance.

The transportation subsidy for needy students, started in 2014 with $80 million, needs to be doubled and given not to parents, but to schools.

We are frustrating our teachers by the inadequate support we as parents are offering. Nationally, less than half of all parents are active in a parent-teacher association. Four out of 10 students seldom, if ever, complete homework assignments. Many teachers are having to spend nearly half their teaching time establishing and maintaining order.

Increasing the allocation for school feeding is good, although given inflation and more poor children, it only means another $12 a day per student.

Easily 30 per cent of our children at all levels come to school hungry every day. Breakfast for everybody who needs it must become a national priority. Hunger and travel distance from school are two main contributors to absenteeism.

 

SHIFT THE DISCOURSE

 

To do it right the first time will demand the complete overhaul of the early childhood education system. The transformation of some 1,500 of the nearly 3,000 basic schools into stand-alone infant schools or infant departments of primary schools must be completed in maximum three years.

It is regrettable that the priority given this process has lagged since the change of administration. The process of certifying basic schools is necessary but entirely insufficient. The 'poppyshowing' around early childhood education must stop.

Every early childhood institution, not just a quarter of them, must have a teacher, trained and motivated to instill and model values of human dignity; self-respect; regard for others, especially the opposite sex; racial pride; gentleness; and compassion.

Tell them the stories showing the values of truth and trust. These are more important than memorising the alphabet, the books of the bible or the times tables.

The time to enrich the early childhood curriculum is now.

I have just started a pilot programme called the Constituency Values and Attitudes Promotion Programme (C-VAPP). We had our first meeting with teachers from early childhood institutions, primary schools, and high schools in the constituency on April 6, 2017.

I will, therefore, be using the educational institutions in my constituency to assist in the promotion of good values and attitudes in the schools, the homes, and the communities within the constituency.

I, therefore, want to use this opportunity to call on parents in my constituency to take advantage of this parental training that will be conducted by the early childhood institutions and the primary schools.

 

RADICAL REBALANCING

 

Most parents are easily attentive to their children's needs at the early childhood level. It is the ideal locus for upgrading parenting education. Do the right thing for both parents and little ones the first time and the lessons and habits are likely to stick.

This issue is too important to fall victim to any inter-party contest. We are pleased when the present government continues the bold initiatives like reducing the shift system and eradicating pit toilets in schools. Accuracy and respect require, however, that it be acknowledged that all achievements in these and so many other areas were prepared, built, and provided for before the change of government.

Right now, the traditional high schools and colleges get the products (about 30 per cent of each cohort) of such good early childhood and primary education as there is. It is no surprise that they produce generally satisfactory outcomes.

The other 70 per cent, whose weak socialisation and low GSAT scores reinforce each other, create, with a few heroic exceptions, a virtual underclass of institutions whose outcomes we frantically and expensively try to remediate.

Just look at what is happening at Cumberland.

There is a better way. Recalibrate the education budget. Do it right the first time so that all children are exposed to good teaching and nutritious food and so develop traits of manners and reasonable behaviour, appropriate standards of literacy and numeracy by grade four, and the crippling problems higher up the educational ladder will be greatly reduced.

- Ronald Thwaites is Central Kingston member of parliament and opposition spokesperson on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.