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.