Yes, we are striding into the next fifty years full of confidence and braggadocio (what a great word that is!) after our command performance at the London Olympics. (I am planning a couple more posts on that topic, so will not get side-tracked here). Many Jamaicans believe that this euphoric wave (which might last for another week or two) will somehow carry the island forward in a spirit of love and unity. Others believe that our twelve medals will somehow boost Jamaica’s economic recovery. Our Prime Minister is still on a high, and milking both the Jamaica 50 celebrations and the Olympic achievements for all they are worth.
Well, that’s what politicians do. Cynics like me have strong doubts about it all.
So let us look at other matters. Among those issues pushed on one side for discussion later, there is that little matter of education. The results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations were released by the Caribbean Examinations Council on Friday. Our eloquent Education Minister Ronald Thwaites declared himself “very disappointed.” I think “horrified,” or perhaps to use an awful English expression “gobsmacked” might have been a better word. But then Minister Thwaites, having reflected further, described the results later as “a very disastrous lurch downwards.” That’s more like it.
Of the so-called “cohort” of students who are actually allowed to sit the exams (which is only a fraction of the school population) only 31.7 per cent passed the Mathematics paper. Fewer passed than in 2011 (a mere 33.2 per cent), which was lower than 201o (a less than impressive 39.5 per cent). Passes in English Language showed a dramatic drop from 64.9 per cent (2010) and 63.9 per cent (2012) to 46.2 per cent. Again, this was only the results for those entered for the exam; many others – I will have to check the percentage – will have left secondary school with neither English nor Mathematics passes, one presumes. Plus, of course, well over half the students who did prepare for the exams – a two-year syllabus. What is to happen to these thousands of young people?
How can we talk about striding into the next fifty years, when our young people are so poorly educated/uneducated/hardly literate/innumerate/untrained? Is this our work force of the future? One hopes for proper analysis, discussion – and solutions – to this crisis in the next few weeks. Yes, I do believe this is a crisis. If this isn’t a crisis, then what is? Will we finally panic when we get down to 20 per cent passes?
Meanwhile, Minister Thwaites has suggested cutting teachers’ vacation leave in order to deal with the issue of teachers’ unemployment. Yes, hundreds of teachers qualify every year and many cannot find work. Even those who have been urged to go into early childhood education – supposedly the government’s priority – are finding no jobs after they have graduated from teachers’ college. And what is being taught at those colleges? Are our teachers really equipped to go into a class of forty or so students and teach properly?
OK. SMH as they say in social media. Meanwhile Minister Thwaites has other issues to deal with. For a start, around 200 Jamaican schools still use pit latrines – in other words, the children use a dark, evil-smelling hole in the ground as a toilet. One such rural school made the front page of the Gleaner this week. The Minister took pity on the school and has issued an edict for real toilets to be installed by the beginning of the school year. When will the other 199 or so schools get their toilets, I wonder? (Having personally seen the condition of some school toilets that are not pit latrines, I can say that sanitary conditions in many schools are pretty disgusting).
Another burning issue for Minister Thwaites: the bookmarks. Bookmarks, you may ask, what bookmarks? Well, a great deal of hot air is being blown about over the printing of 100,000 bookmarks as gifts to the students of secondary schools. Minister Thwaites had asked for as many schools as possible to recognize Independence Day (August 6). The bookmarks were to be distributed as souvenirs. Anyway, these bookmarks bore the smiling face of the Minister superimposed on the Jamaican flag. Opposition Leader (and former Education Minister) Andrew Holness was furious. (There seem to be so many “flag issues” don’t there?) He has called in the intrepid Contractor General, Greg Christie, to investigate procurement and other concerns. I understand that the offending bookmarks, which are now useless, cost J$1.7 million. This would be enough to fund a non-governmental organization serving Jamaican children for at least six months.
We will no doubt never get to the “truth” on this matter, but meanwhile – I wonder who authorized this? Did they really think this was OK, protocol-wise?
While we were all celebrating, Western Union shut down the operations of fourteen overseas branches in and around Montego Bay. We didn’t really see this one coming, and anyway we were in the clutches of full-fledged “Olympicitis” by then. The only conversations were about finals and semi-finals on the track.
The closure was, of course, connected to the heinous lottery scam. This remittance service has become a conduit for the activities of our Jamaican-based criminals, and I am, like the Gleaner, somewhat surprised that this did not happen sooner. The closure is expected to last for two weeks – possibly more – and it will not be business as usual when they reopen (or at any other branch in Jamaica either, one hopes).
Meanwhile those poor and needy people who depend on remittances from Jamaican family members living overseas were thrown into panic at the closure. I was amazed – and depressed – to see the crowds of Jamaicans, young and old, thronging the Western Union offices. Some did not even have the money to travel down the road to Hanover to collect their money. Women said they depended on the money to send their children to school. Little old ladies and frail old gentlemen were thrown into despair. Somehow, it frightened me to see such dependency. Although I should not have been surprised.
The Gleaner served up a number of punchy editorials this week, as if determined not to be distracted by the dancing in Half Way Tree, joyful as it may be. One suggested, “There is a sense that ministers are off on independent programs, seeking to outdo each other, rather than being part of a coherent whole.“ Is this fair, one wonders? And if so, what is Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke doing about the growing food crisis? Ah – that might be a topic for another blog post; because this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Even the Observer got tetchy on the subject this week, with an editorial that pointed out rising grain prices in the United States, our huge food import bill, and the lack of a clear strategy to deal with food security. With another quick left hook, the Gleaner - while congratulating Minister Clarke on his national honor, a Commander of the Order of Distinction – reprimanded him for his lack of vision on the matter.
Vision. There’s a big word. It’s something we seem to be searching for, sadly and with increasing weariness. Like Growth. And Leadership! And Investment. And, oh yes, Unity!
And here are a couple of things I was less than excited about last week:
Winston Hubert McIntosh (better known as Peter Tosh) received a posthumous Order of Merit (O.M.) in the Independence National Honors. The weed-smoking, profane, rebellious, unicycling Tosh, a former member of the Wailers, was murdered in 1987. He still has a website, liberally sprinkled with ganja leaves. I remember he was well-known for his obscene language on stage (but of course, that is quite accepted these days) – part of his rebelliousness, one supposes – and he played a guitar shaped like an M-16 on stage, too. Yes, a great role model.
Having said all that, I love Mr. McIntosh’s music and always have done. And yes, he spoke out against apartheid (so did almost every other singer at that time) and “Equal Rights and Justice” is a brilliant song. But I don’t think that is enough to get the third highest honor in Jamaica. Plus, I don’t really believe in the posthumous thing. If they didn’t deserve one when they were alive then why give people an award when they are six feet under, many years later? I’m sure Tosh wouldn’t care and might well refuse it, as John Lennon refused a National Honor. I also know that, although our current Transport Minister reveres the reggae musician, if the anti-establishment Tosh were alive today he would not be so popular with politicians. Didn’t he invent the word “politricks” ? He would be giving them hell.
An article, headlined “500 new houses for Coral Springs,” puzzled me this week. The article declared that the said homes would be built “in the dry limestone forests surrounding an already existing housing estate in Coral Springs.“ This is in Trelawny, western Jamaica. Presumably that existing housing estate was also built on previously existing dry limestone forest. Forgive me for enquiring, but isn’t dry limestone forest a special ecosystem, an environment that is becoming very scarce indeed in Jamaica and that is home to the endangered iguana and other creatures? Am I missing something here? Someone explain please?
Finally, is this the only way that Red Stripe beer can think of to advertise its product? How sad. And how unoriginal. Like those endless dancehall videos. Bottoms…protruding everywhere.
And much more inspiring…
Congrats to the Braco Village Hotel, which won a TripAdvisor Award after only being open for a couple of months. I swear by TripAdvisor and am one of its “senior reviewers.” I make hotel and other choices based on its reviews. So this means something to me.
As a passionate Arsenal Football Club fan, what’s not to love about the Observer Lifestyle Team’s great feature on the club’s haute cuisine a few days ago. Yes, chef Collin Brown can whip up a wicked jerk chicken roulade. Go Gunners! The new season awaits!
And kudos to the Observer reader, who gave Independence Day gifts to students from the difficult Mountain View Avenue area of Kingston. There was a touching article about this by the Observer’s Kimmo Matthews, which unfortunately I am unable to locate – but it really was quite moving. I will try to find the link. Such gestures of human kindness are what the “spirit of Independence” is about, no? P.S. For more reflections on Jamaica 5o and Independence, I would like to refer you to fellow blogger Annie Paul’s blog and 2009 article, “Do you remember the days of slav’ry?” The link is below.
As always, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, husbands and wives of the following persons who died violently this week:
Ms. Natasha Dixon, 29, Mandeville, Manchester
Oneil Livingston, 26, Mark Lane, Kingston
Unidentified man, Grier Park, St. Ann
Unidentified man, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew
Paul Cooper, 44, Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland
Unidentified man, King Street, Kingston
Unidentified man, Charles Street, Kingston 13
Cecil Elson, 45, Spanish Town, St. Catherine
Related websites and articles:
http://www.cxc.org (Caribbean Examinations Council website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120811/news/news6.html (Shocking CSEC results)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/lead/lead92.html (Cut vacation leave, employ more teachers)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead8.html (Mt. Rosser Primary pleads for proper sanitary facilities)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Thwaites-says-he-s-ready-for-probe-on-bookmarks (Thwaites says he’s ready for probe on bookmarks)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Spanish-Town-hospital-patients-transferred-to-Linstead (Spanish Town Hospital patients transferred to Linstead)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120809/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Warning from Western Union – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead2.html (Western Union operators pushing to implement new security measures)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120812/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Food crisis and a disjointed Government – Sunday Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Incoherent Government – Gleaner editorial)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Beyond Roger Clarke’s C.D. – Gleaner editorial)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Seizing-the-moment-in-a-time-of-crisis_12216161 (Seizing the moment in a time of crisis – Observer editorial)
http://petertosh.com (Peter Tosh website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure3.html (O.M. for Peter Tosh? No way!)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Five-hundred-new-houses-for-Coral-Springs_12224190 (500 new houses for Coral Springs)
http://www.bracobeachresort.com (Braco Village Hotel & Spa website)
http://anniepaul.net/2012/08/01/do-you-remember-the-days-of-slavry/ and http://anniepaulose.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/the-days-of-slavry1.pdf (Do you remember the days of slav’ry? Annie Paul blog and 2009 article)
Yes, we may be short of a lot of things in Jamaica, but we’re certainly not short on sunshine. As the sun thankfully dips behind the rooftops (the sun isn’t thankful, I am) I am just about to start this blog post with very little idea of what has or has not been going on this week. We took three days off away from all media, computers etc (unless you count switching to ESPN for the Euro 2012 semi-finals). Thanks ESPN! (I was quite upset by Italy’s sad defeat at the hands of Spain today, but the Italian team delighted me during the tournament with their creative, attacking play. Spain played like a passing machine, but seemed to wake up for the final). Ah well. The drama is over. We now await the start of the new English Premier League season.
Meanwhile, back on the Rock, shock waves from last week’s “bloody weekend” – including the resurgence of gang warfare in the August Town area of St. Andrew – continued to ruffle the media; and the annual hand-wringing exercise over the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) examinations kicked into top gear. On the former, I feel deeply sorry for the many peaceful and law-abiding residents. August Town is not, to my mind, a typical “inner city” area with all that the term suggests. The first time I visited there about twenty years ago – and I have done so a number of times since – I have felt that it was more like a village. The area is close to the University of the West Indies campus, on the outskirts of Kingston. There are narrow streets, small houses surrounded by low walls, a number of churches, and a bus service into Kingston. It is essentially a cul de sac, so the bus has to turn round and go back. There is the usually-dry Hope River (an escape route for criminals, I understand), and some houses on the other side. There is a primary school with a large yard, and the police station close by. What is most striking is the steep green hills on all sides – so close, so green, with one huge white scar where limestone was quarried. And yet, in true inner-city tradition, August Town has “corners” where young men gather, and is divided into areas called “Vietnam” or “Jungle 12.” And the small community (it really is small) which was ironically named after Emancipation Day on August 1, 1838, has a plague of gangs, mostly (or originally) politically-motivated. Since 2008, residents have been lulled into a sense of false security after the signing of a so-called “Peace Treaty” between gangs; this was negotiated through the efforts of an organization called the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) and the local community organization headed by the well-meaning Kenneth Wilson. I have my severe doubts about these peace treaties; how can they last? Gangs are gangs. Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hinds, who is in charge of crime, does not believe in them. But Mr. Wilson has, on this occasion, complained that concerns expressed by residents in the area prior to the latest outburst were ignored by the police, who were not “proactive” enough and could have prevented the murders if they had listened.
Enough hot air has been expelled on the topic of the GSAT results to inflate a balloon and carry it half way round the world. Educators and officials, retired and otherwise, have all weighed in with interviews and columns in the media. Should the test be abolished? How can we breach the “social chasm” described by Minister Thwaites that afflicts our educational system (but hold on…doesn’t this afflict every aspect of our society, Minister Thwaites?) Meanwhile, one high school said it simply could not accommodate all the students who had been placed there by the test; and one of the conceptualizers of GSAT is quoted as saying – perhaps rather brutally – “I hear the minister apologizing to schools for being called failing, when in fact they are worse than failures. Some of them should not even exist.” Oh dear. Expect more of the same this time next year.
Speaking of education, one commentator on the Jamaica Observer website commented wryly, “I wish Jamaicans were as passionate about education as they are about two men in pink dresses.” Yes indeed, the “homosexual debate” drags on endlessly, with the usual obfuscation, manipulation, misinformation and religious propaganda. The latter gets plenty of airtime in the media, with religious leaders coming out of the woodwork all over the place with their arguments, and of course their Bible quotations. Thank God for sensible and clear-thinking people like broadcast journalist Dionne Jackson-Miller, who tried to make some sense out of it in her latest blog post (see link below).
The rumblings over whether Jamaica should remain in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – called by some a “talk shop” – continue intermittently. Speaking to the Sunday Observer today, CARICOM Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque intones, “I think the single most important reason for keeping CARICOM alive is to serve the development of our region. It can’t be anything but that.” Well, as young people say… Duh. My italics, by the way – it appears CARICOM is on life support? Well, it is worthy of note that a recent ECLAC survey on Caribbean GDP growth last year (and predictions for this year) pointed out that it was the non-English speaking countries of our small region that have registered – and will register – strong growth. For example, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Suriname – six, 4.5 and 4.3 per cent GDP growth predicted this year; Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts & Nevis – just one per cent each. Go figure. By the way, CARICOM’s annual summit for heads of government will meet this coming week; among the “big issues” to be considered this week is – yes, you’ve guessed it. West Indies cricket.
But hey! Summer is here, and the seasonal distractions from the serious issues of the day are multiplying daily. Why worry about regional development, education and so on? It is hot. We all need to chill out. The rich ones will be disappearing overseas in a few weeks’ time – and of course, that includes our politicians. And there is sports. With the Olympics mere weeks away, the National Trials have been taking place over the last few days at the National Stadium – which, strangely, has been three-quarters empty, even for races with superstar Usain Bolt (who was beaten not once, but twice by his reportedly more focused rival and training partner Yohan Blake). Jamaicans adore their athletes; but there seems to have been confusion over entrance tickets. Besides, people probably just don’t have the money to buy them. Much cheaper to watch them on television.
And then, there is Jamaica 50. Of course, I still have questions (don’t we all?) For example, why was an International Reggae Day concert in Emancipation Park suddenly canceled at short notice? Why is the Portland Jerk Festival, which happens every year, a Jamaica 50 event – and such a costly one (J$1,400 at the gate)? Is there a schedule of Jamaica 50 events, and if so where? I tried to download the enlarged schedule pdf document on the Jamaica 50 website (“proudly presented” by the Jamaica Information Service), and got this message: “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. However, the website did remind me that we are just five weeks, 1o hours, 40 minutes and 18 seconds away from our nation’s fiftieth anniversary. And there is a basic schedule here: http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/JCDC-CALENDAR-OF-JAMAICA-50-NATIONAL-EVENTS1.pdf. For the month of July, there is Reggae Sumfest; the Festival Song Contest; and other regular annual events. OK, OK… I know, we don’t have any money, but are these really Jamaica 50 events, or just wearing the cloak of Jamaica 50?
Meanwhile, the politicians talk. And talk. Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke and Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites are the two current Champions of Talk at the moment. Speeches galore. Minister Clarke, an amiable and obese man, raised scattered laughter when he asked his audience whether they agreed that he had thrived (thriven?) on a good healthy diet of Jamaican food. The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party has been largely quiet, apart from Justice and National Security Spokesman Delroy Chuck, who is clear and sharp in his commentary. There is an occasional obscure piece of waffle from the Opposition Leader, who seems to have gone back into his shell. Among other serious issues, Mr. Chuck has asked why the monthly meeting of the National Security Council has only taken place once since the new administration took office six months ago; if this is true, what is the story behind this?
Our Prime Minister is also very quiet, and only speaks when spoken to at the moment, like a well-behaved child in Victorian days. At least, I have seen very little reported.
But let’s give a huge round of applause to our very own Jamaica Defence Force and to all the other participants – including those from overseas – in the Jamaica Military Tattoo 2012. This was only the fifth in Jamaica’s history, and by all accounts our military outdid itself. Congratulations to all involved.
On the arts front, congratulations are also due to the urban arts festival Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) 2012, which took place over the past week. It was an extraordinarily lavish schedule of art in all its forms – grassroots, uptown, downtown, in-between – showing how vibrant and creative our much-maligned capital city truly is. Special congratulations to Veerle Poupeye, director of the National Gallery of Jamaica and her hard-working staff for their ongoing work (and for their monthly Sunday openings); and of course, to Karin Wilson Edmonds and the many others who worked so hard to make KOTE 2012 a huge success. I have to add that this is largely a private sector effort – thanks to all the sponsors and supporters, and may it be even bigger and better next year!
And of course, the sports. Mr. Yohan Blake and Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are worthy of special mention for beating the favorites in the National Trials in both the 1oo and 200 meters. But congratulations to all the young men and women who put out all their efforts and the best they have to offer. I am sure those who qualified for the London Olympics will continue to strive and do well for Jamaica.
Let’s round things off with another old and hoary “chestnut”: It’s “health tourism” time again! For the umpteenth time, this wonderful idea (it is a great idea actually) has been taken from the shelf and dusted off, this time by Industry, Investment & Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton. The Jamaica Information Service describes health tourism as “a new growth area with significant potential.” We first heard these words – or something very similar – approximately fifteen years ago. Well, let’s give it another whirl. I am sure the long-suffering “diaspora” will be thrilled to hear about it – or did I hear a stifled yawn from across the waters? Surely not. It’s a new area, folks! Let’s talk about it some more!
Well, dark has descended and I have rambled on too long. We are due for at least a few more days of hot, dry weather, with clouds that drift high above and have no intention on raining on us here in Kingston.
It’s summer, we haven’t solved the mystery of the noxious fumes yet (more on that another time) and…let’s try to have a great week!
My deep condolences to the family and friends of all those who were murdered in Jamaica in the past week. This may not be a complete list, but my thoughts are with all those who are mourning the loss of their loved ones.
- Kemado “Joe” Edwards, killed by the police in St. James
- Unidentified man found in a cane field in Llandilo, Westmoreland
- André, in Barnett Lane, Montego Bay, St. James
- Bryan Morris, 33, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Sylvia Beckford, 40, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Judith McCauley, 31, in Sheffield, Westmoreland
- Unidentified man killed by the police in Camrose, St. James
- Courtney Willis, in Nuts River, St. Thomas
- Unidentified woman chopped to death in Manchester
- Fabian Buckley, 26, in Duhaney Park, Kingston
- Newton Steer, 40, in Red Ground, St. Catherine
- Hugh Modest, 47, in West Meade, St. Catherine
- Cyril Kelsey, 59, in Leeds, St. Elizabeth
- Norman Noble, 48, in St. James
- Mario Balotelli, One of Soccer’s Most Gifted and Eccentric Players (nytimes.com)
- Gianluigi Buffon: Italy must improve to beat Spain in Euro 2012 final (thesun.co.uk)
- Sunday Songs (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Jamaica National Trials 2012: Seeking emancipation for Veronica Campbell-Brown and Usain Bolt in 200m (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/#comment-482 (djmillerja.wordpress.com)
- In Memoriam (petchary.wordpress.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Peace-dream-shattered (jamaicaobserver.com)
- Minister reassures Jamaicans after 10 killed in bloody weekend (caribbean360.com)
- Blake shocks Bolt in 100m dash at Jamaican Olympics trials (edition.cnn.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Mystery-fumes-dissipate_11848158 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/ja50/v2/ (Jamaica 50/JIS website)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-112/31081 (Spectacular Military Tattoo: Jamaica Information Service)
- http://www.caribjournal.com/2012/06/18/haiti-led-caribbean-gdp-growth-last-year-will-again-in-2012-eclac/ (Caribbean Journal)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Jamaica-won-t-leave-Caricom–says-LaRocque_11851491 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-simple-truth-about-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage_11837769#ixzz1zQHZKyR2 (jamaicaobserver.com)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Homosexuality-and-religion-in-our-politics_11817993 (Mark Wignall column)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/jamaica-and-gays-are-we-homophobic-or-not/ (Dionne Jackson Miller blog post)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/The-big-issues-for-this-week-s-Caricom-summit_11837771 (Rickey Singh on CARICOM summit)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/GSAT-defence–Retired-educators-who-conceptualised-exam-say-test-not-the-problem_11804900 (GSAT defense)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120630/news/news1.html (Jamaica Military Tattoo)
- http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-107/31098 (Health Tourism remarks, JIS)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120629/lead/lead2.html (Sickening fumes…Jamaica Gleaner)
- Bouterse installs CARICOM youth leaders (kaieteurnewsonline.com)