Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012

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.

Prime Minister celebrates Olympics
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller celebrates Olympics success with Ministers Morais Guy (left) and Noel Arscott (right) (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

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?

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites (Photo: Gleaner)
Student sitting examination
A primary school student sitting the GSAT examination (Photo: Rudolph Brown, Gleaner)

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).

Pit latrine, Mt. Rosser Primary School
This is not the worst I have seen, but here is one of the pit latrine huts at Mt. Rosser Primary School. (Photo: Karen Sudu, Gleaner)

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.

Jamaica 50 bookmark
The offending Jamaica 50 bookmark. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

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.

Arsenal eats

Chef Collin Brown (center) with his jerk chicken roulade at Emirates Stadium.
Red Stripe girls
Red Stripe girls “pole dancing” at one of the sex-and-booze-infused “parties” that took place for an entire week in Negril over the Independence holiday. You can’t get away from BOTTOMS, even in the good old Gleaner. Enough already!! (Photo: Sheena Gayle, Gleaner)
Construction site in Coral Springs
No coral, no springs and certainly no dry limestone forest around here. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)
Peter Tosh
Peter Tosh attempting to smoke up a whole field full of marijuana (or ganja, as it is known in Jamaica).

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:

In Memoriam

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://www.tripadvisor.com (TripAdvisor)

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)


5 thoughts on “Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012

    1. Thanks, dear. I try to cover the most “burning” issues – although some might say that other issues are more important! Yes, it is always sad indeed. Although I will be noting in my next post that the police announced a reduction in murders last month… I would be happy to have only one or two names on that list, each month. What concerns me is the families of the victims. I grieve for them. They have so little access to social services, counseling etc. Almost no help.

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  1. We have lacked real vision for a very long time and looking the those who have occupied the positions of power over the past 20 years, I have no doubt that this “lack of vision” will continue for quite a while.

    The saying ” we are all fiddling while Rome burns” aptly applies to our governance. It is not just 5 or 10 years ago we have been having problems with education and we seem unable to find solutions. Then again, after being in a couple high schools recently and seeing the behaviour of the students, I am not surprised that our grades at CXC are going down and many are leaving unable to read or write. We are breeding tomorrows’ gunmen, thieves, drug runners, prostitues, baby mothers and fathers now in the secondary school system.

    The PM and Cabinet will milk Jamaica 50 and the Olympics for all the “feel good” they can get while the Finance Minister run up and down the US eastern seaboard trying to drum up support to try and convince the IMF to lend us more money.

    I beg to you please leave Red Stripe and their ads alone. I find them rather ahem fabulous. You are not the “target audience” for the ads so I am not surprised that you find them “distasteful”

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    1. Dale… Problem is that since most politicians (if not all) enter that profession for their own personal gain (while protesting otherwise) and their “vision” is completely clouded by this. They cannot see through the clouds of their own self-interest. The education issue terrifies me. Like you, I am looking at a very dark future for Jamaica. But the politicians don’t care – their kids don’t go to school in Jamaica anyway, let alone to a public school. As for the “feel good” – well, it cannot last more than a few more weeks, then the proverbial …. will possibly hit the fan… I was surprised to read that we are asking the U.S. government to help with IMF negotiations. Is this desperation?
      PS I realize that I am not the “target audience” for Red Stripe ads (and all the other tacky ads featuring women’s bottoms). I am just saying it’s neither original nor interesting and I don’t want to see the bottoms plastered all over the pages of the illustrious “Gleaner.” But I realize it’s all quite acceptable in this sexist society. These poor girls – do they actually have real jobs I wonder? What are they going to do when they grow up?

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