Thu | Dec 1, 2022

Patricia Green | Retrofit schools to ensure inclusive education

Published:Monday | September 6, 2021 | 7:09 AM
May we avoid using COVID-19 as a vehicle to segregate Jamaican children, when there are architectural solutions that can be used to avoid this.
May we avoid using COVID-19 as a vehicle to segregate Jamaican children, when there are architectural solutions that can be used to avoid this.

My most indelible experience as a 1970s London architecture student was visiting Poland and touring Auschwitz Birkenau, the largest German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres operated 1940-1945, inscribed 1979 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I witnessed first-hand the depths of man’s inhumanity to man. My guide was a survivor of the holocaust against Jews, and of Auschwitz. At that time my fellow Jamaican student colleague and I must have been the only black women in Poland because we were followed everywhere by tens of children, even adults. So my Auschwitz guide gave me an extra special tour.

UNESCO says on “Education about the Holocaust and genocide” that its of historical significance and outlines the importance of this event to prevent genocide and atrocity crimes. Museums like Auschwitz “… help learners become critical thinkers, responsible and active global citizens who value human dignity and respect for all…”, to raise questions about human behaviour. We should avoid succumbing to oversimplified answers to complex problems in the face of vexing societal challenges “… in ways that can relate to a variety of contexts and histories throughout the world…”. I make the leap immediately to link over four 16th to 19th century of the slave trade transporting millions of Africans to Jamaica and the New World as enslaved peoples.

Imagine me remembering Auschwitz when hearing discussions on the emergence, spread, and variants of COVID-19, especially in social media. COVID-19 vaccination, it seems, are manufactured in Europe aimed at and preferred by Europeans, USA for North Americans, India for third-world nations, or Cuba for the Caribbean. Global governments promote vaccinations as mandatory, yet there is alternative medicine discussions. Amazon online carries “I got my COVID-19 Vaccine” stickers. ‘Jab’/ ‘no-Jab’ tags people and separates them nationally and globally. Same with the holocaust, persons destined for Auschwitz tagged in towns and villages across Europe. Some social media have promoted COVID-19 vaccinations as experiments, calling them ‘injections’ aimed at reducing black and brown populations.

WHAT DEFINES NORMALCY?

What is the cry, a return to “normalcy”? What defines “normalcy”? What happens to those persons who do not wish to be vaccinated? What about children whose parents and guardians do not want them vaccinated? What about United Nations conventions on vaccinations, even in a pandemic that permit choice? What of individual national constitutions globally promoting freedom of speech and choice?

The Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations (OCCBA)/Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Bar Association debated “Mandatory Vaccination” in a Virtual Forum July 16, 2021. Professor Rose-Marie Bell Antoine, dean of the Faculty of Law at University of the West Indies St Augustine, argued the term “…Illusion of choice…”. When Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines used the word “mandatory” he received a ‘buss head’, and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley experienced near riots. Hence Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness avoided “mandatory”, instead presenting vaccination under “Illusion of choice”, only these children will be allowed face-to-face classes. Some people question, why include an experimental ‘injection’ alongside tested proven vaccinations?

The platform of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #4 ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, reports COVID-19, “…wiped out 20 years of education gains…”. Recognising Primary achieving 83 per cent in 2010 and 85 per cent in 2019, while Secondary had 46 per cent in 2010 and 53 per cent in 2019 – this slow progress in school completion, compounded by the current pandemic – is likely to get worse.

At the forum, learned counsellor and founding member of the Jamaican Bar Association, Dr Lloyd Barnett, stated that governments “…should make alternative arrangements if they refuse…”.

Why do children remain unvaccinated? Why are vaccinations inaccessible inside many urban and rural communities, without finances for public transportation for this? Why ignore personal choice of parents and guardians?

The alternative arrangements Prime Minister Holness has mandated is that schoolchildren without COVID-19 vaccinations are to attend school virtually.

Kudos to 14-year-old Kelvin Peart of Queen Height Road, St Ann, featured on TVJ, who turned an old shop-bar into a classroom. Food For The Poor later helped to improve his surroundings. Kelvin’s students had no access to internet, unable to access virtual school. Urban and rural access to technology and equipment through poverty with virtual education over the past 18 months of COVID-19 has been a challenge for many. Kelvin became a hero, likewise others who filled such gaps in many communities across Jamaica to educate marginalised children, some in secret. At Auschwitz, persons were carrying out survival activities secretly and severely penalised when discovered.

SCHOOLING FROM CHURCH

During enslavement Baptist, Presbyterian, and Moravian churches educated black Jamaicans before and after Emancipation even throughout diseases in the plantation fields and in church buildings. Sadly, classes had to be conducted in secret to hide from the planters.

When will pastors be allowed to open their churches for schooling and to assist in education solutions?

In response to Dr Barnett’s call for “alternative solutions”, let us consider how school buildings may be repurposed/retrofitted according to new COVID-19 protocols. As an architect, and there are others sensitised, it comes automatically to conceptualise design strategies for existing school buildings to make them inclusive environments to accommodate both the vaccinated and unvaccinated – and without any interrogation of individuals.

One strategy would be to add simple lean-to extensions for naturally ventilated classroom overflows, among other ideas. Let us avoid making excuses, because during Jamaica ‘Labour Day’ activities, communities and businesses across Jamaica mobilise financial and human resources to make community improvements. So do the same for this back-to-school crisis brought about by COVID-19. Make this a national activity. Share best practice from model communities who make necessary physical adjustments to avoid segregation with stigmatisation of our Jamaican children.

James Mursell Phillippo in his 1843 publication Jamaica: Its Past and Present State wrote, “…previous to the year 1823 there were not more than one or two schools in the whole island expressly for the instruction of the black population. Hence they were generally ignorant of the art of reading; while their improvement was universally opposed by the planters as inimical to the future peace and prosperity of the island…”.

Will politicians on both sides of Parliament unite in this venture over the wholesome education of our children, or will our parliamentarians go down in history like the planter enslavers before 1823, tacitly opposing universal education for all children, thereby hindering peace and prosperity of the island? May we avoid using COVID-19 as a vehicle to segregate Jamaican children, when there are architectural solutions that can be used to avoid this.

- Patricia Green, PhD, is a registered architect, former head of the Caribbean School of Architecture in the Faculty of the Built Environment at University of Technology, Jamaica. Send feedback to patgreen2008@gmail.com.