Ronald Thwaites | A crime which rivals slavery
She is 15 going on 16. She is in grade nine in a less-than-ideal high school, three bus rides from her semi-rural home. Her father does not deal with her, and her mother earns minimum wage– sometimes. And there are the other children to look after...
She is 15 going on 16. She is in grade nine in a less-than-ideal high school, three bus rides from her semi-rural home. Her father does not deal with her, and her mother earns minimum wage– sometimes. And there are the other children to look after. My girl is on Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) and goes to school when there is bus fare, which translates to three days in a good week, and only when COVID-19 nah keep. She gets the PATH lunch, but rarely has anything to eat before that.
The only subject she really likes is ‘cosmo’, but since she keeps quiet in class the teachers don’t notice her much.
She is among those in the region who UNICEF says have lost more than 1.3 billion school hours over the past 20 months. She can’t read much but knows the lyrics of every popular ‘chune’. She will be promoted to grade 10 in September coming.
While the headline writers and those Rex used to call the “chattering class” highlight every more superficial issue, the crime against my girl, rivalling slavery, goes mostly unnoticed.
The World Bank estimated on Thursday that pre-pandemic, for every 12 years of schooling offered to Jamaican children, applying learning-adjusted school years, about 7.8 years of effective learning took place. That’s huge leakage, obvious in the outcomes which many of us in authority don’t want to talk about. Time spent does not correspond with learning and skills acquired, no matter how much we try to pretend by highlighting the exceptions, as if they were the norm.
But it gets worse. Caused by the lockdown of schools, the World Bank reckons that an additional 1.3 effective learning years have been lost. This leaves the present cohort, all 600,000-plus, my girl included, with a projected exposure to 5.6 years of real learning out of 12 years of investment. That’s more than enough to scuttle our entire 2030 vision.
That’s the crime. Listen to UNICEF describe the present condition of our school children. “ We cannot even measure the social, physical and emotional toll of school closures on our children, but we are certain the impact will be felt on their lives, families and country for years to come.”
To continue to ignore the mental stunting and offer only a ‘peaw-peaw’ response to the lifelong cramp, the mental enslavement which is happening silently and ineluctably before our eyes, constitutes a crime resembling the physical bondage of the past.
My girl is beginning to look beautiful now. The boys circling around don’t check for school. You know what is likely to happen. Her reality, multiplied thousands-fold, is the recipe for the persistent poverty which George Beckford wrote about and which present policy does not address.
FUTILITY OF TEACHERS
The pastor in St Catherine sits on the five school boards in his circuit and visits schoolyards and classrooms regularly. He reports the futility of teachers trying to help students catch up for massive learning loss, while covering this year’s syllabus – at the same time, the children in front of them are distracted, very often fractious, and deeply emotionally mixed-up. He recommends ceasing all subject teaching until the students can settle down and re-engage normal routines and patterns of conduct.
I agree with him. It is never too late to consider an extra year of schooling to make up some of the deficit identified by the World Bank, Capri, Patterson, Dr Gayle, UNICEF and countless school officials. Selfish ‘hard-ears’ make us complicit with the crime of recklessness with our future and disrespect for our youngsters’ life prospects.
Faced with this crisis, the absence of attention to the Patterson Report and the misleading tenor of submissions coming from the teachers’ union to the parliamentary committee examining the Jamaica Teaching Council Bill last week, approach the unforgivable.
The legislation is uplifting the teaching profession, not ‘gutting’ it. Existing underqualified teachers and instructors can, and will, be ‘grandmothered’ for the start and given time and opportunity to upskill. Minister Williams and other committee members were correct in repudiating the reactionary alarmism which was paraded before them. It can never be a legitimate exercise of free speech to ferment fear and mistrust based on untruth. We must not use our liberties to forge shackles for others.
Rev Ronald G. Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.