We are glad that Mark Nicely, the new president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), is, early in his tenure, committing his thoughts and ideas to writing and chose this newspaper for his initial foray.
We are, however, disappointed with what Dr Nicely seems to believe, judging from the topic he addressed, is the most pressing issue facing education in Jamaica, and what is required for its transformation.
Dr Nicely wrote on buses. That is, those on which students, he says, like to travel: with heavily tinted windows and loud music, with lyrics heavy on violence and sex.
"When any student travels on any of these buses for any extended period," Dr Nicely says, "he or she becomes intoxicated with the aroma of aggression, violence, donmanship or a desire for sexual interaction."
He adds: "Simply put, many students, at the end of a journey, are sexually aroused. Upon exiting these buses, some of them who may care to may spend some time fixing their uniforms, which are usually in a state of disarray, as in many instances gyrating is an integral part of the experience. This sexually aroused student enters school ... with sex uppermost on his or her mind.
"If it is not a situation of sexually charged, it is a display of aggression, exhibited to both peers and adults."
Dr Nicely does not offer the empirical data of a controlled psycho/physical study for his conclusion. He does recall his days as a Kingston Technical High School student in the 1990s, before he gained his PhD, when a ban on tinted windows and loud music on buses was announced but, up to now, not enforced.
His implied conclusion - that having ridden these buses, most students are not in the mood for learning until they are "desensitised" from the high of the commuting experience.
Take the argument to its logical conclusion, and commuting by public transport in Jamaica is the primary reason why a fifth of Jamaican high-school students finish their education by grade nine; a similar proportion are screened out of the regional secondary-school examinations at grade 11; and, of those who take the exams, only 18 per cent pass five subjects, including English and math, at a single sitting. It is those tints, too, why a third of students fail English and more than 60 per cent, math.
stick to core issues
This newspaper does not doubt the potential for ill effects on students of continuous exposure to the environment described by Dr Nicely.
We, nonetheless, would wish, and expect, that Dr Nicely's primary focus, at this time, would be on issues more specifically related to his profession and the union he leads.
There is, for instance, the issue of the accountability of teachers, including linking their remuneration to outcomes in education. This is a matter that has been resisted by the JTA, but which we expected the enlightened Dr Nicely to embrace.
We also expected, at this time, to be hearing from Dr Nicely his proposals for creating a more efficient education system so that taxpayers could squeeze more from the over J$70 billion a year they spend on the sector.
As it is, buses, are a convenient shield for Dr Nicely, teachers, and the JTA.
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