Lascelve Graham, GUEST COLUMNIST
Jamaica's high schools are uniquely positioned to play a pivotal role in both the education and socialisation of our youth. Our high schools need to take both these roles more seriously so that these fragile, impressionable young minds will later be better able to compete in the knowledge-based world economy.
Our competitors understand this very clearly. The dismal academic performance of our high schools, where approximately 50,000 children enter and only about 6,000 pass five CSEC subjects, including mathematics and English, should indicate the inefficiency of our high schools and the need to more fully focus on the academic/technical education of our youth.
The high cost to our economy of crime, corruption, other antisocial behaviour, as well as the trust deficit related to our leaders and institutions, point to the need to urgently intensify our efforts to positively socialise our youth.
Families, of course, play a crucial role in the areas mentioned, but considering the crisis of family that exists in Jamaica, and the fact that strengthening our families is a long-term process, we need to find other means in the short and medium terms of inculcating the values, attitudes, and life skills that our society needs.
Jamaican society seems to be ambivalent about education, and about the system of education that we profess to follow. Hence, we tend to undermine, to beat the system. That is why, among other things, our educators participate in, encourage, facilitate, and turn a blind eye to the business of our high schools importing sports talent, with its attendant negative consequences. They are, in fact, beating the system.
Jamaica must make up its mind. If we are uncomfortable with the current system, let us change it; but let us have a system that is declared transparent, consistent, and equitable up to the high-school level. Let us have a lottery to allocate space in our schools, if it meets the required criteria.
We cannot have some children being required to go through a gruelling, traumatic entrance exam, while others get a waiver. We cannot have double standards where our young citizens are excluded based on standards for which they were not even tested.
Other countries of note, having a system similar to ours where those getting the highest marks on an entrance exam go to the best schools, have no problem celebrating that, since they are clear as to what is their top priority-academic/technical education.
On the other hand, although we declare that space in our high schools is allocated on a competitive academic basis, and is determined by performance and preference, we grudgingly tolerate, e.g., Campion and Immaculate, for having, by and large, the students who get the highest marks in our entrance exams. It seems we pooh-pooh their academic successes, generally keeping them off-balance, on the back foot, while lauding and celebrating the sport successes of Kingston College, Jamaica College, St George's College, Calabar High, Holmwood Technical, etc.
socialising our children
The secondary but important function of our high schools is to socialise our children. The overwhelming majority of our children in high school are from poor backgrounds and from families which are stressed, economically and otherwise. They need all the help they can get. They need all the benefits that sports can bring them. Why then do we import youngsters?
The major role of sports, including football, in the educational framework of high school is to help in this socialisation of our children, who have legitimately gained entrance to a given high school based on the declared entrance requirements, except in rare hardship cases.
Sport evokes tremendous passion, and so it offers a golden opportunity to capture the imagination of youngsters in practices which may prove much more difficult or seemingly impossible in the classroom. Because of this passion and love, our youth will not readily walk away from sports. They will persevere where normally they would give up.
Sport can be a very strong force in behaviour modification, emotional growth, and pro-social practices. It can be used in the rehabilitation of many of our more recalcitrant youth, some of whom have good sporting ability.
Sport has different roles depending on the context. A football game between warring communities is an attempt to cool tempers, build better relationships, and helps to set the tone for conflict resolution. Bringing stars in from outside the communities so that one team can have an advantage over the other is similar to sports importation. This is defeating the purpose of the game.
Because of the love of money, our educators have allowed the shifting of the emphasis of sports from the inculcation of the principles, values, and attitudes for which the society yearns, to winning at all cost. Thus we send warped messages to our children.
The impact of sports in our schools is indeed far-reaching. Schools will be quick to tell how much winning has helped them to raise funds. It does seem that the love of money is truly the root of this evil.
'how you play the game'
If sports, including football, is going to be an effective socialisation medium, the spirit of sports in high school has to be 'it is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game'. Educators talk about the importance of the process, but the real message they convey through their actions is that the result is what really matters - winning.
This mentality decreases the efficiency and efficacy of our schools to instil pro-social behaviour in our youth. Let us not, therefore, wring our hands in disbelief and dismay when they exhibit antisocial behaviour and fight and stab and burst each other's heads and remain angry and undisciplined.
While recognising that culture is complex, with a number of inputs, our leaders continue to display the usual knee-jerk reactions and show of outrage when vicious acts of murder, stabbings, rapes, abductions, and other antisocial behaviours occur, while continuing to encourage actions in our schools that make them less effective transformational institutions, less effective hubs of positive socialisation.
We have weakened one of the most powerful socialising tools in the arsenal of our schools by professionalising sports at the high-school level. This is clearly signalled by the rampant practice of importation by high schools of youngsters based on their sporting ability in an attempt to influence the outcome of sporting events.
Let us not fool ourselves. High schools import to win. Full stop. It is of little or no consequence whether the youngster is rich or poor, literate, semi-literate or illiterate, coming from an institution with great facilities, or none. Once they have the requisite sporting talent, they will be taken in. Having taken them in to suit selfish purposes, we will then spout lofty ideals like 'every child can learn, every child must learn' as a convenient smokescreen. We have sown to the wind and we have already begun to reap the whirlwind.
Dr Lascelve 'Muggy' Graham, a former STGC, All-Manning, All-Schools and Jamaica football captain, is a leading activist against the exploitation of student athletes. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.