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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” Nov. 17, 2023)

This week, we do the forbidden. We touch a holy grail, an area of governance that has brought many benefits to the people of SVG. We speak of the ULP’s vaunted “education revolution”. We delve into this “sacred” topic because, amidst the advances, too many children are being left behind.

Almost immediately after coming to power in 2001, the government committed to improving education. The government built new schools at Sandy Bay, Fair Hall, Peter’s Hope, Edinboro, and Union Island, transformed the Richmond Hill Government School into the Thomas Saunders Secondary, and constructed learning resource centres across the country.

However, significant and lasting progress was made in education, particularly in supporting students, particularly the children of the poor and working people, to study and obtain a university education. Friendly governments, Cuba, Venezuela, Taiwan, and Mexico, offered generously. Our students blossomed at the University of the West Indies, and their attendance grew so that Vincentian students became the largest contingent apart from those born in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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Compared to where we came from, these developments represent tangible gains. But — and this is a big but — the changes do not constitute a radical break with the past. The education curriculum remains neo-colonial in content. The glorious history of our nation and the Caribbean is optional; critical thinking must be instilled, and rote learning predominates.

While more significant opportunities for learning and advancement exist, there is increasing evidence of systemic failure. We are hampering our future because we are neglecting our youths. Here’s how and why.

Four or five decades ago, many students read below grade level. One or two students were left back because they failed. Today, because of social promotion, we are graduating entire classes with students who can neither read nor write. Many teachers lament the fact that scores of students are ill-equipped to perform in the classes in which they are placed.

During parliamentary debates, it’s not unusual to hear the Minister of Education lament his inability to track the students who enter Form 1 at most secondary schools. By Form 3, far too many students disappear or are unaccounted for. While migration may explain some student loss, evidence for others is increasingly popping up on the streets. Young boys between the ages of 7and 14 can be found loitering and begging outside supermarkets, stores, and fast-food joints.

Questioned as to why they are not at school, the answers vary from the inability of parents to provide necessities like shoes and uniforms to disciplinary problems that result in suspension or expulsion. And these are just the boys. Undoubtedly, girls encounter similar problems.

The time has come for us to tamp down on the rhetoric of the education revolution and settle down to the difficult task of ensuring that no child is left behind.  “No Child Left Behind” must become more than a slogan. The solution to indiscipline in class cannot and must not be suspension or expulsion. What is needed is a student services centre in every school. Such a unit must be equipped with trained counsellors and a remedial staff that are alert to many of the problems confronting young people.

The teenage years involve an explosion of hormones that often prove challenging for young adults. Some students exist in difficult circumstances. Their parents may be unemployed, underemployed, or part of a significant percentage of the population who can be appropriately labelled working poor. Then, there is peer pressure to dress, act, or perform in a certain way. Many peg their hats where their hands cannot reach. Forced to jump, many slip, fall, and begin a downward spiral to regret, failure, and worse.

We submit that the ULP Education Revolution has failed to balance academics and high performance at CXC and CAPE. Consequently, many young people view themselves as failures if they are not among the elite performers. Hundreds of students attend Community College and are forced to settle for a life of unemployment.

We talk about work’s redeeming and life-fulfilling nature but de-emphasise technical training. In earlier times, when secondary and university education was available only to the privileged few, the poor and working-class children settled for training as masons, carpenters and plumbers. Today, even as we build bigger construction projects, most skilled labouring jobs are reserved for foreign workers. We must prohibit this practice or demand that contractors hire a percentage of nationals as skilled workers and apprentices.

We have thousands of new or modern vehicles that many of our older mechanics need help fixing. The time has come for us to hold a lottery, select, and offer scholarships to about 15 young men and women for auto mechanic training in the US, Germany, and Japan.

Air conditioning, refrigeration, computer, and cell phone repair training should be glamourised. There is an excellent living to be made from technical jobs. Too many of our university graduates are stuck in jobs ill-suited for their training. They become bored, frustrated, and demotivated. Many are stuck in teaching positions that they prefer to avoid. Teaching becomes a means to a paycheque rather than a motivated endeavour. The end result is that the students suffer.

The ULP government has embraced tourism as its developmental model. It’s an ill-informed policy which the COVID plandemic laid bare. But that’s their way. However, it’s a strategic vision that must be revisited. While tourism should be a pillar, its limited benefits should disqualify it from being the anchor in our developmental thrust.

Where should we seek a silver lining that puts youth at the forefront? Agriculture offers promise. If we mean what we say about food security, agriculture looms large. Youth can be encouraged to go back to the land. We can aggressively move to marry idle young hands with idle lands. We can make agriculture “sexy”. Encourage young people to form agricultural cooperatives and earmark lands for organic agricultural production. Offer incentives for people to move away from pesticides and toxins.

When we settle, we lose. Everything must be interrogated. Youth must be at the centre of everything we do. Currently, too many young people are left behind.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

2 replies on “We are leaving our children behind”

  1. nancysauldemers says:

    Hear, hear! The evidence of too many young people being left behind can no longer be ignored. This opinion piece offers some viable tactics that could and should form part of a comprehensive program of youth development and employment. Does the required political will exist? Time will tell.

  2. Our so-called education revolution consisted mainly of physical blocks and mortar input instead of sold intellectual learning outcomes has been an abysmal failure. Building lots of schools and credentialing lots of dunces by handing them undeserved diplomas does not add up to a sound education, as the illiterate comments on this site’s Facebook site show on a daily basis.

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