Sunday, June 24, 2007


In my life, I have been besieged by people who, admirably, wish to work but have no jobs. The difficulty is that their appetite for work is not aligned with their appetite for doing the things that are recommended in order to become qualified to work. I once met a young man who, after months of him asking me to help find him work, I agreed to assist. I was impressed by him initially, as based on our conversations, he was obviously a keen observer of the world around him, and despite his somewhat rough manner, was reasonably articulate, which implied a working brain.

I asked him to help me by giving me some personal information, pertaining to experience, qualifications and such like. There was limited experience beyond simply being a virtual beast of burden on various construction sites (you've seen them...they carry water to mix the cement, they move stones, dig trenches and the like), and more importantly, little by way of formal education. I asked why his high school education ended after 4.5 years. It turns out he had been expelled for fighting. The school administration did not like him, he said. All of that is well and good. But what struck me, is that he figured that he had enough of a base to move forward. He had had odd jobs from time to time, but had used that money to live, and acquire material possessions. Not for him, going back to school and depriving himself of the flat screen tv (which subsequently blew up when his stolen unregulated electricity supply fried it). He has also enlarged his current abode, situated on premises leased by a landlord of dubious title, money which is largely irrecoverable.

Where did I learn life lessons like education first, everything afterwards? My parents, I guess, and my peers. I suppose in his hardscrabble world, making yourself into a man requires him to acquire visible and tangible assets.

So, where do we go?

I support a strong national programme where unskilled labour like his is recognised as a national asset that can be employed in projects that have some national utility...whether it is bushing verges, open lots, demolishing derelict buildings. This differs from Portia's Crash Programme Redux, in that the labour is recognised as an asset and this dignified, and rendered in exchange for coupons (and some cash, i.e., a stipend) redeemable at dedicated educational programmes designed to take adult students to at least a first level of educational qualifications. CXC Basic Math and English Language should be a must, and others optional according to aptitude/appetite.

In conjunction with this programme, we would also establish community homework centres, recognising that this programme of academic study requires out-of-class work, and that many of these persons reside in areas and circumstances where that is not an option. Professional persons who have some aptitude could be asked to assist in these programmes by monitoring and offering assistance to students.

At the conclusion of the programme, we would have placement akin to the HEART trainee placement programme. Even if we don't we at least have a far better educated workforce, whether employed or otherwise....which means a better waiter, bartender etc...Am I too much of an idealist? I hope not.

Whether one agrees with me or not, there are some basic truths that we must recognise as a nation. One of them is that our current education system is sorely in need of a makeover. One of the premises on which it rests is that students will have the requisite level of maturity, emotional and otherwise, to pass through satisfactorily. For the vast majority of students, I suspect, it is simply not true. I would wager that the daily life and circumstances of, say, 60-70% of our primary and secondary level students is completely at odds with what the system assumes. We need to either re-design the system to recognise this, or we need to have an educational safety net in place to catch these misfits (I do not use the term pejoratively). We can talk about free education all we want, but that only goes to solving part of the problem. We need to recognise the very different social circumstances that obtain in today's Jamaica. We cannot afford to do otherwise.

Laziness is a curse...

and it is also a human condition. catch up again. I've been terribly tardy in putting anything on this blog that invites reading. This will change however....yes, I know, one has heard it all before.

So much has happened around me in this place that I can't even blame a shortage of material as an excuse.

Let's see...Bob Woolmer murdered/not murdered. Hmm.....everyone wants to jump down Mark Shields' throat, for what reason I don't know. People seem to feel he was "hogging the spotlight". How, exactly, does the senior officer on the case, the lead investigator on a case and one extremely experienced with dealing with the feral media, "hog" the spotlight? I guess his being the person who more often than not delivered the media briefings bothers people not used to seeing regular police briefings or a policeman being adept at dealing with the media. But so be it. Let Mark Shields be. And let's ignore Renato Adams, a personality who knows all about hogging the spotlight with his out of turn comments. He is the first police officer I know who spoke to the media that much. Anyhow....we can hopefully close the book on that now.

Elections? Rumour has it we will be looking at a new administration (whether a new PNP or the JLP) by Emancipation Day. Or we could have a 30-30 split, which, given this country's propensity for drama, would be entirely more consistent. The bacchanal we saw in T&T when that happened would pale in comparison to what would occur here. I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with a quasi-civil war. My PNP problems are many and varied. Complicity in corruption....dodgy decision almost compulsive devotion to spend money on grand projects, instead of doing the small things right (the Trelawny stadium, anyone?) atrophied sense of creativity in developing solutions for our problems....the list goes on and on. Portia does not inspire loyalty. I wished her all the best as she came to power; hoping she would harness the cross-party popularity she appeared to have and put it to good use in starting to fix things that needed fixing. Instead we got more of the same, and worse. We got ungracious behaviour, screaming and un-statesmanlike public stances. Someone forgot to tell her she was now PM and not MP. She now led a nation, not merely a constituency. But I blame her advisors, perhaps more than I blame her.

Now...onto the JLP. Is Bruce the Messiah? He certainly behaves like a statesman, not being given to staged public hysteria on cue. So much so that he has been going around the country stirring up apathy. We like a showman. Charismatic leaders were our mother's milk, from Busta to Michael (no last name necessary). Even the somewhat dull PJ Patterson, whose personal flavour, if represented as an ice-cream, would have been "wet cardboard", could give a good quip or two. Remember "shoot that horse"? But Bruce...none of that for him. Is that a problem? Not in a perfect world, so the answer is yes. Would I mind him as PM? Not really. I think if after almost 18 years in power more things are wrong than are right, someone else deserves a fair try. Plus, why does a party need to be in power for 18 years, given the absence of blinding prosperity and a sense that the Government is making all the right moves?