No, Dr Chang, No!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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We have long considered newly appointed National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang as one of those politicians with an inclination to think carefully before opening his mouth to speak.

Hence our surprise at comments attributed to him elsewhere in the media regarding the shift system, which is being phased out of Jamaica's approach to education.

Dr Chang is reported to have told a forum in St James last week that those who “imposed” the two-shift system on the children of poor people should be sent to prison and further that it was “a criminal act”. The minister appears to suggest that the shift system is responsible for many of the social ills afflicting the Jamaican society.

There is no question that from the very beginning in the 1970s, the shift system, often ridiculed at the grass-roots level as 'half-day school', was deeply flawed. There can be no question that the quicker government can provide the money to build out the required classroom and study space so that all Jamaica's children can attend “whole day” school, the better off the society will be.

But how could Dr Chang not know that but for the shift system – flawed though it undoubtedly is – many thousands of educated Jamaicans today would have been left behind and in the dark because of the abysmal inadequacy of classroom space down the years?

Lest Jamaicans forget, in the immediate aftermath of the emancipation of slaves and for generations thereafter, the British colonial masters showed little interest in the education of the so-called 'natives' in Jamaica and elsewhere in their vast empire. The few high schools and most elementary schools across this country were built by church denominations.

As political Independence approached in the early 1960s, only a select few Jamaicans made it to high school. The great majority of poor people's children never got a chance to better than a very rudimentary education. Illiteracy was frighteningly prevalent. Even up to the late 1970s/early 80s, high school spaces remained scarce with successive debt-trapped Jamaican governments struggling to find the money to build physical infrastructure.

It's against that desperate backdrop that the flawed shift system came into being, opening up high school access to poor people's children.

It needs to be remembered that when it was first implemented in the 1970s, the shift system was meant to be very temporary, pending the build-out of schools, classrooms, etc. It is testament to economic stagnation and poor governance that 40-odd years later it is still with us.

Sadly, in the nation's numerous urban ghettos and in deep rural farming areas many Jamaican children are still not going to school, or if they do, only very irregularly. That's not because there is no school space, crowded though many schools are. It's because of poverty, poor parenting and a paucity of enlightened leadership.

Those who fail to understand that children who do not go to school are prime targets for evil, criminal manipulators, are hopelessly blind.

Dr Chang is reported as saying that as national security minister he will have a hands-on approach in working with social agencies. While he is at it, he should insist on projects that will ensure all children go to school — even if it's a shift school — every day. Otherwise, 20 years from now, whoever is national security minister may still be supervising emergency anti-crime measures.

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