Oral Tracey | Target the bench warmers
The latest round in the seemingly never-ending debate with the moot being Academics versus Sports in the Jamaican High-School System was ignited by the second edition of the TVJ Sports Town Hall meeting held last Thursday. Unfortunately, the moot, as constructed, seemed to imply a straight conflict or choice between academics and sports. There really ought not to be an either- or dynamic in this discussion. The aim of all should be the encouragement and facilitation of every young Jamaican to maximise his or her potential, whether they are academically or athletically inclined.
The proponents of the status quo remaining as is, where the athletically inclined students are the easy scapegoats for the ills of a failing education system, appear to be conveniently ignoring the salient fact that student-athletes make up a minute percentage of the general school population.
The most disturbing reality that is being ignored is that the shortcomings on the education system, and by extension the nation, is not indexed by the academic struggles of the relatively few student-athletes, but more so by the 25 to 35 per cent of 11th-graders who continue to pass through high school after five years without obtaining a single pass in a single subject. These are 16-, 17-, and 18-year olds who continue to be mere time wasters, who never kicked a ball or ran a race, and yet, achieved nothing academically.
That is the elephant in the room that is being hypocritically ignored as all energies are aimed at the four to five per cent of the population who play sports. The airy silence about this 25 to 35 per cent bench-warming time wasters, while targeting the student-athletes with greater scrutiny, additional pressure, and indeed, academic stipulations in order for them to represent their schools in football or to compete at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs), the only extracurricular activity with such requirements smacks blatant hypocrisy and double standard and is downright discriminatory.
No one holds the education system and/or these bench warmers accountable. They simply occupy this space for five years then exit without notice into societal obscurity, or, even worse, they get caught up in the web of the wider nefarious activities that the very same people who remain silent on their existence in the schools cower about and belatedly condemn with disgust.
There are no loud sirens or outcries or town-hall meetings to seek answers as to why so many of the nations youngsters are leaving a high-school system without academic qualification or even the basic skill sets that will prepare them for basic survival. Yet, the grumbles are incessant about the relatively few who seek to distinguish themselves with their sporting talent.
It is obvious that some among us are getting carried away by the high profile and comparative prominence of the student-athletes. After all, the elite performers in schoolboy football and at Champs are often the headliners in the newspapers, on television, and radio, granting them national recognition and acclaim. The impression that is being gobbled up is that the actual number of student-athletes, relative to the general student count, is higher than it really is.
The targeting of legitimate members of the student body who satisfy attendance and behavioural standards simply because they indulge in sports, which invariably contributes positively to the overall school population and wider community, is reprehensible in a context where tens of thousands of their fellow students merely waste their way through the school system like the summer breeze, unnoticed and unchecked.
There can be no moral or ethical grounds for these selective attitudes and actions aimed at a particular group when there is no evidence that the wider problems of the school show any correlation to the group being targeted.
My opinion is that this entire attitude of prejudice against the student-athletes is stemming from an innate jealousy of the status enjoyed by these talented young individuals, a prejudice that has journeyed across many generations. It's a covert and misguided attempt at keeping the proverbial playing field level and at cutting these so-called 'prima donnas' down to size, but in the quest to attain the unattainable, what is actually being meted out to these young Jamaicans is systematic prejudice and injustice.