Untrained children and gangs in the education system


Sunday, June 10, 2018

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Some segments of the education system are improving as can be seen in the outcome of the Caribbean Secondary Examination Council school-leaving exam taken by students who are graduating. This does not include those who it is felt will fail and are not allowed to sit the exam.

The result is that only 30 per cent of those in the age cohort of the secondary system sitting the exam annually attain the benchmark of five passes in subjects in which they are successful. The other 70 per cent either fail to reach the target or do not sit the exam.

The 70 per cent who fail become a burden on the State and drag down the prospects of the 30 per cent who succeed.

The greater part of this problem is that it is the same outcome today as it was in 1965 when the system was first introduced to set aside 70 per cent of the accommodation in secondary schools for children of the poor in primary schools. In fact, there have been insufficient changes overall educationally, despite efforts by political and academic leaders and the teaching profession. This is one of the main reasons why so little change in education for the better has occurred nationally since Independence.

If the outcome was the other way around, with 30 per cent failing the school-leaving exam and 70 per cent succeeding, it would be a monumental change for the future. There would be considerably more secondary and tertiary graduates who could become professionally skilled, all for the betterment of the country.

Likewise, there would be fewer poor without skills who are unable to pay their way, for instance water rates and electric power charges. In the instance of 70 per cent only being unable to finance their own needs while with 30 per cent being able to do so, more people could pay water rates and electricity charges.

I am convinced that it is not fully understood that a proper education system is the most vital need of the country. Only an educated population can benefit from the substantial job creation expected to take place in technology, and any significant increase in employment will bypass Jamaicans as skilled people would have to be imported from abroad.

While the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme is obviously at the top in importance, a crucial decision should be made without delay to draft a preparatory step by step plan beginning with early childhood education and literacy shortcomings at the primary level to be implemented immediately after the IMF programme is completed.

It is to be expected that as the decades go by, there will be new beliefs and patterns of conduct which will take the place of the old established order. Social and cultural changes will take place. But it should also be expected that these changes will occur within tolerable limits which will not create unbearable points of stress within the existing system.

Families in particular, but schools also, have become deeply concerned that the cultural changes of young people are creating a new order of indiscipline, inordinate violence, disrespect, and other types of social disorders that are running away from their control and from overall authority. Indeed, this will become a new subculture. There is much talk about what to do to bring back more control.

For instance, learning more about appropriate values and attitudes may very well be considered a good learning experience worthy of promotion. If this is so, notwithstanding the good intentions of this approach, it could have only limited success. At the teenage stage of development, or early adulthood where the problems become more evident and troubling to the society, the social responses and beliefs have already become culturally ingrained and a monumental effort would be needed to effect really meaningful change.

Today's social and cultural differences are a result of yesterday's influences, some of which originate within families. Yet there is little or no recognition that if changes in the practices of parenting which create stressful and hostile experiences are not dealt with now, when it is possible to do so by better parenting of this generation of children, they too will become the next generation of social problems.

Today's abused will become tomorrow's abusers. With appropriate measures now, the next generation of children could be raised with less brain damage. They would become a better educated, more socially balanced generation with added capability of the brain to rely on handling their growing up periods to maturity without causing chaos.

This new order of parenting should be one of the highest priorities for focused learning. Families will be receptive. Schools will be attentive. This new approach to parenting would be a focal point for participation by people from many backgrounds. Some would impart their successful experiences and some would learn, as in the new initiative, the Roving Caregivers Programme. I see it also as a focus of interest for young parents who can best explain their own preferences. This mix is in keeping with the shared vision of developing a new generation of youth.

Fraternal relations in the inner city are rife with suspicions of who are friends and who are enemies. Gangs form around those who live in close proximity, or “corners”, because members can trust one another. Inter-gang rivalries often arise, which become a source of not mere conflict, but open violence. The stress created by these conflicts often affect entire communities because everyone becomes a potential target. Even schools, though more regulated and controlled, are scenes of gang rivalries, or individual feuds which turn violent.

Not all of these are stress-related. The causes are many: drugs, girls, money, politics, guns, territorial space, and a deep concern with disrespect. Deep-rooted remnants of centuries of disrespect under the punishing conditions of slavery have made respect one of the prime elements which cement relationships among young men. Disrespect destroys relationships and creates frenzied reactions. Even minor acts committed inoffensively in unstable circumstances can be considered grounds for disrespect and consequential abuse, often leading to violence and involving whole communities. These are all factors which lower the bar of tolerance in inner-city communities.

These specific examples must not give the impression that inner-city residents live in continuous fear, watchfulness and apprehension. Inner-city communities have more than their share of relaxation and entertainment, successful upbringing of children and solid family relationships. These are at their maximum potential when the element of fear is not present. To find protected surroundings becomes a prime factor in the settlement pattern of inner-city life. When people feel safe in a community, others follow in order to ensure their own safety until there is a build-up of new community.

Those who do not understand the high level of stress in daily life in the inner city will also fail to recognise why the ever-present danger of living in fractious communities is to be avoided and the need to find collective security is critical. This is the principal need that drives the development of what has come to be called “garrison” communities. Family safety comes first in the inner city as it would anywhere else.

In conclusion, we can isolate the two major problems and their effect on the country: inadequate early childhood education and young people with no education.

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