Will COVID-19 be our catalyst for reform?


Will COVID-19 be our catalyst for reform?

BY Lascelve Graham

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

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COVID-19 is upon us! There are debates and theories surrounding from whence it came, whether its origin was man-made and, if man-made, by whom and for what purpose. Many believe it is an act of God and a sign from the Lord. While it would be most instructive and satisfying to solve the problems posed above, I suppose we will never definitively know the answers to these questions for a long time.

The mind of man is so awesome, so creative, so ingenious, so insightful, and his spirit so greedy and capable of such inhumanity to his fellow man that it is difficult to put anything beyond him. Things that were science fiction just yesterday, and thought impossible, far-fetched and absurd, are now the norm.

Throughout history people who have challenged the status quo have been derided, decried, scorned, castigated, ostracised, persecuted, and even killed. Two examples of sufferers in science are Nicolaus Copernicus, who pronounced that the Earth orbited the sun, and not the other way around, and Galileo Galilei, his disciple of later years. Copernicus did not allow his works to be published until he was almost on his deathbed because he anticipated the strenuous opposition that resulted. Galileo, a former prince of the church, lived his latter years under house arrest because of his support of Copernicus's ideas.

As James Allen wrote in As a Man Thinketh: “Mind is the master power that moulds and makes, and Man is mind, and evermore he takes the tool of thought and, shaping what he wills, brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills. He thinks in secret and it comes to pass: Environment is but his looking-glass.”

Given the above, I don't think we can reasonably rule out all of the man-made scenarios postulated. We have done that often in the past, only to be proven wrong years later when files are declassified and the truth exposed. However, God-made or man-made, we have to deal with this situation intelligently, so that as many of our people as possible are spared the misfortune of coming down with the virus.

It has made a number of us stop and think about many things, including our priorities, our frailty, our powerlessness, our interdependence, and our place in this universe. Some of the things I have been thinking about are:

1) The fact that Jamaicans seem to require insistence from outside for us to make necessary paradigm shifts in our lives.

2) How important education and socialisation are to human endeavour.

3) What will it take for us to make the necessary changes which will bring about the delivery of quality education to our children?

The powers that be in Jamaica seem to require threatening stimuli from outside to take difficult, far-reaching action which will lead to the long-term benefit of our nation. It required the might of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) hanging like the sword of Damocles over the head of our leaders for us to undertake, start, and maintain, through political coordination, the very difficult disruptive, economic reforms necessary to put ourselves on a much stronger, sustainable financial pathway. Again, it took the might of the USA to shake up, disrupt the system, and dislodge the powerful Christopher “Dudus” Coke from Tivoli, with action started by one political group and completed by the other, although occasioning loss of memory (“I can't recall”) and lives.

Now we have the virus and the eyes of the world upon us. We have again taken disruptive action, difficult decisions, made life-changing moves, and made paradigm shifts in our thinking in an attempt to deal with the crisis at hand. Most laudable, but, again, dictated by foreign forces (virus, World Health Organization, etc). What these different scenarios suggest is that we are capable of doing what is required, but we lack the self-discipline and/or courage, the self-motivation necessary to initiate them on our own. This is our weakness. This is what we must strive to strengthen, to improve.

The virus calamity serves once again to emphasise the critical roles that education and socialisation play in our lives. Someone wrote in an opinion piece recently that what was happening with respect to social distancing was completely different above Cross Roads as compared to below Cross Roads, where it was as if social distancing, and its purpose, were unheard of; totally disregarded. This was also the case in a number of places outside Kingston. It is as if an iron curtain of ignorance, leading to antisocial behaviour, exists, separating one part of Jamaica from the other. Some institutions went as far as to have squares differently coloured to indicate where individuals should stand, and people still stood between the squares. With respect to the curfews, there were the usual defiant ones and others who seemed to be totally oblivious to what was happening around them.

Education and socialisation permeate every aspect of our lives; from good manners, through crime, to the knowledge-based digital world into which the virus is hurling us at an accelerated pace. Will the virus help us to understand that we have a serious crisis in education and socialisation, which is demanding of a campaign of the magnitude and focus shown for COVID-19, if we are to deliver quality education to all our children, up to high school level (basic education), and stop stunting the potential and blighting the futures of thousands of young people every year?

What will it take for our leadership to accept and act on the fact that human resource development is critical for progress; that education is paramount; that education in Jamaica is in crisis; that the wasting of so many young minds is more devastating than the effects of the virus and must be tackled with great urgency; that radical, disruptive changes are needed if we are to deliver quality education to our children throughout the length and breadth of Jamaica; that it will require a campaign of the magnitude, forcefulness, determination, and consistency launched for the virus to adjust the education system so that the quality, equity, and outcomes needed by our society are achieved in a reasonable time?

Other countries (Finland, Singapore, South Korea, Cuba, etc) have shown that the driving force, the spark, the eureka moment for such change for this initiative must come from within and the benefits resulting therefrom will be stupendous and well worth the effort, the sacrifice, and the undertaking. These countries moved their public education systems from the bottom to the top of the world, and they have served them well ever since.

Does our leadership have the spunk and the testicular fortitude to follow suit, to stop talking and start acting? Can COVID-19 spur us into self-belief and action with respect to educational and social reform? Is there not one politician/private sector titan/captain of industry who sees the danger lurking out there if we fail to tackle this problem forthwith?

Dr Lascelve “Muggy” Graham is a former captain of Jamaica's national senior football team. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or long.78@hotmail.com.

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