Sun | May 22, 2022

Ronald Thwaites | The school and national security link

Published:Monday | January 24, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Deputy Superintendent Collin Johnson of the St Andrew North Police Community Safety and Security Branch is seen with New Day Primary student Mackeeni Morgan and the Kiwanis Club’s Patricia Bowen during a recent school visit.
Deputy Superintendent Collin Johnson of the St Andrew North Police Community Safety and Security Branch is seen with New Day Primary student Mackeeni Morgan and the Kiwanis Club’s Patricia Bowen during a recent school visit.

Despite a week of multiple murders, I dare to posit that the worst circumstance relating to our long-term national security is the reality that some 40 per cent of schoolchildren cannot be found or have not returned to school.

The preacher at the prayer breakfast made more sense on the subject than that frenzied speech in the Senate. The country needs a “lift” beyond reflexive repression. The army, under new leadership, would contribute best if they were training and resocialising thousands behind the Red Fence.

Professor Patterson reports that in constant dollars, Jamaica spends an annual average of around $8,500 per student, while Singapore invests over $60,000 to school each of their children each year.

Audley is wondering why Jamaica has fallen so far behind Singapore and how we can catch up. There’s your answer, respected Minister Fitz-Albert Shaw.

Who read the comment in last Friday’s press about the situation in the job-dense business process outsourcing sector, where they are getting nuff applicants, but many, many less suitable, well-trained employees. Why? Because whole heapa yout’ deh a street - not in school.

And because more than half of the ‘graduating’ cohort have little or no certification, some -- too many -- end up in the criminal subculture. Even if they escape that, they are the ones most likely to become pregnant too early or to be consigned to real unemployment and underemployment ( not the labour force statistics type) and marginal productivity.

Hello! Idleness breeds fecklessness, personality destruction and criminality.

The Patterson Commission report, without being rudely explicit, says that HEART/ NSTA Trust should be reoriented (polite speak for dismantled) and much of their big money redirected to the early childhood and primary sectors. That is the most radical of recommendations. Does Andrew Holness have the stomach for that? Just asking, where are the successful outcomes which plucking the cash-rich HEART from the education ministry to the prime minister’s nest was supposed to have delivered by now? Scandal, instead?

What about giving the high schools, say, one-half of the training budget and a mandate that no student leave high school without a Level 2 qualification in an employable skill? That, along with measurable competence in manners and discipline, English, math and information technology, could catapult GDP beyond 2030 expectations and seriously dent criminality.

Take the remainder of the HEART money and give it back to industry and commerce, on the condition that they apprentice students to be assessed and certified by the training agency.

We don’t need another Patterson report to do any of this. We have the money already, and the need is obvious. Do that and there would still be change left over to invest in the pre-primary sector.

RETHINKING

The other big proposals in the report for financing transformational education are to follow the World Bank advice and divert money from the tertiary sector to primary and pre-primary uplift. This would involve a reconstruction of the financing models of our universities, as well as rethinking and expanding student loan financing.

Tough, but essential. The truth about ourselves, which we can no longer conceal, is that we have been building an educational superstructure upon weak foundations, the sinking sands of gross economic inequality, deficient families, and inadequate appreciation of how important early development really is.

The education report argues for the necessity of parents to contribute fees for their children, with the essential rider that those who genuinely can’t pay would not be denied quality access.

Look here: Nothing of value is free in life. Not even salvation, which was paid for by the shedding of precious blood! It is always a question of who pays for quality. It should be clear by now that although the State must contribute more, wherever possible, parents must invest heavily in their children’s future.

Most teachers with whom I interact report that large numbers of children come to school to be in a safer place than being home, and to get food. The transformation report finds that the majority of household money support for education goes to provide lunch, snacks and bus fare. Why not reduce absenteeism by offering breakfast and lunch, and a transportation subsidy, for those who school principals certify as being in real need?

I urge you to listen to Patterson himself. “If through greater government coordination and support, economies of scale could be garnered in the provision of more affordable meal options for children at school, households would have significantly more funds available to them to support other aspects of the teaching and learning process. A successful policy would also target health benefits from better organised meals, and the economic benefits to more organised and efficient enterprises within the local farming and agro-processing community... a similar point can be made in respect of transportation expenditure, which consumes between a fifth and a quarter of household expenditure on education.”

Every support must be given to the ministry’s ‘Yard to Yard’ effort to re-engage truants. But ‘come back to school, for what?’ will be the subliminal question in many minds. Many people followed Jesus for the fish and the bread, later to be converted to the way, the truth, and the light. This is where improved school feeding, engaging extracurricular prospects, and a realistic remedial learning and training programme will make the difference. Subsidised extra lessons are an uncertain remedy.

It is time to turn the national security discussion away from supression alone and focus our lazy and terrified minds on forming and rehabilitating the youth, who are at once the main victims and perpetrators of crime and violence.

In sum, there is an integral connection between school and national security.

Rev Ronald G.Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.