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Ronald Thwaites | Foundational challenges in education

Published:Monday | April 8, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Three events during this past week show up some foundational challenges facing education in Jamaica. The first was the abuse by some students at Calabar High of their Kingston College peers at Monday’s assembly.

Fortunately, public response was swift, proper standards prevailed and an apology was proffered and accepted by Wednesday. The administration, some faculty and a few student leaders attended at KC. It remains for those Calabar students who actually raised the nasty chant to travel the same route to North Street and, with the same sincerity as their representatives, show that they have learned their lesson. Apologies can’t be delegated.

But there are much more pervasive aspects to this event. Those offending students, and sadly many more of us, have been taught to disrespect others because of their sexual orientation, real or imagined. Also, even these, the best of our high-school crop, are being incessantly taught that winning at all costs is what really matters. So school youth ‘stars’ can be recruited like professionals, given ‘blys’ for low-standard academic performance, and elevated to a standing where they can even ­disobey and possibly abuse a teacher and get away with it.

So sports, important as they are for character building, gets more money and prominence than other aspects of education. And our children learn these lessons well and many order their lives accordingly.

As the wise principal Myrie of KC has been heard to say, no doubt echoing the spirit of Gibson and Forrest, “Kingston College is not a sports academy. We are a school where sport is played”.

In light of what transpired both before and after Champs, I am expecting that the esteemed sponsors, GraceKennedy, will offer strong and clear standards and conditions for future sponsorship. And will the ministries of education and sport, not to mention ISSA, break their unfortunate silence on these broader issues?

On Wednesday afternoon, the annual GraceKennedy Foundation Lecture considered the wasteful and purposeful degradation of Kingston Harbour. They are to be thanked for bringing their corporate prestige to bear on this important subject. The transmission of information about the harbour, the annual value of which had been estimated at as much as half of a billion US dollars, was masterfully offered by Professor Mona Webber. But after her, there was little more which was helpful and practical.

Please help!

What is the therapy for the Riverton dump, which ­continues to pollute Hunts Bay and more? Beyond all the fluff about Government’s plans, heard again for about the tenth time, how do we propose to relieve the filth in the harbour when garbage and sewage still flow from uptown and downtown to the sea, while National Solid Waste Management Authority and National Water Commission have no comprehensive plans to stop this? There is nothing in the Budget for these purposes. Why? Life, health, ­aesthetics and multi-billions are at stake.

Happily, the lecture was attended by many students. But we have to stop just telling them of the problems we are bequeathing them and, instead, offer available money and direction to change a situation which is fast becoming irreversible. How do we justify defunding the schools’ Environment Clubs in an era of Ramharrack and topsy-turvy cakes?


What is the message from the GraceKennedy lecture to the people of Rae Town, Bank of Jamaica and Greenwich Town shore-fronts who, despite Mrs Webber’s warning that human skin should not even touch toxic harbour water, swim there regularly and have no option but to eat (and sell to us) the meagre fish catch which survive the ‘do-do’, the plastic and the PET bottles?

The lecture was admirable, but the teaching moment needed to have been much sharper on change and therapy.

Then on Saturday, the Caribbean Mental Health Conference, organised by Professor Frederick Hickling and colleagues, exposed the empirical and irrefutable evidence of debilitating personality disorder affecting the ‘livity’ of almost half of our people.

The situation is cruel because of how widespread is the denial of the root of unhappiness, crime and low productivity. Frightening because of how profound the change of ­culture relating to personal relationships, family, school and escalating ­inequality will have to be.

CARIMENSA’s Dream-A-World programme for ‘bad pickney’ in primary schools has shown significant results. So why has it been downgraded?

The foundational challenges to education of appropriate values and attitudes, environmental sustainability and good mental health are solvable within our resources and in our lifetimes. It is the will and focus that are lacking. Should we not stop being the architects of our own misfortune?

Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to