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'The centre will and must be made to hold'

Jean
Lowrie-Chin

Monday, July 16, 2018

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As we arrived at the Papine Campus of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) for the institution's 60th Anniversary Lecture by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen, Hubie and I reminisced on our first formal date. It was several decades before at his Collge of the Arts, Science and Technology (CAST) — now UTech — graduation. And here we were, almost at the same spot marveling at the expansion of this great university.

It was a rich lecture, tracing the history of tertiary education in Jamaica, and the emergence of the digital age. Sir Patrick noted that UTech “has not only cemented its place on the landscape of the nation, but is producing work-ready graduates. He pointed out that UTech is the first and only university in the English-speaking Caribbean to have a world-renowned school of architecture — Caribbean School of Architecture. It has the largest and oldest school of pharmacy in the region and is the only university known anecdotally to be 'The Home of World Class Athletes'. This makes Jamaica, arguably, the country per capita that produces the best runners in the world.

“Your 60th anniversary theme, 'Pioneering Past; Bright Future', aptly summarises and describes your history,” he declared. As he reflected on the benefits as well as the dangers of our digital age, and Vision 2030, Sir Patrick noted, “Having right values is an important component of development.”

Those of us who are concerned about poor governance in our public sector agencies would do well to consider the governor general's resolve that we can overcome these challenges. “We have seen signs of the shaking of the moral foundations which belonged to an earlier time,” he stated. “The combination of easy access to information, the challenge to institutional authority, and the growing acceptance of a post-modern philosophy, when combined, call to mind the book title of the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

“We may, indeed, begin to think that 'the centre cannot hold'. But it must,” he urged. “Civilisation has been through perilous times before, and the human spirit has overcome them. The philosophers speak of a perfection of civilisation as we will come to know it... For us, our obligation must centre on the promotion and preservation of quality and excellence. The centre will and must be made to hold.”

This significant lecture, posted on the King's House website, is well worth a good study.

Road safety update

We had encouraging news from Dr Lucien Jones, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council (NRSC), at last week's half-year press briefing at Jamaica House. Road fatalities are trending down, with 10 deaths less than the previous year. However, we were reminded that, in addition to fatalities, there have been many serious injuries, bringing grief and serious loss of income to families, as well as serious stress on Jamaica's health facilities.

There was an emotional moment when bereaved mother Jean Davy, who had lost her only son in a crash last year, appealed to the public to stop taking photos of road traffic victims and circulating them on social media. “Before taking your smartphones to record the death of someone on their last breath at a crash scene to place them on social media,” she pleaded, “I am asking that you please consider that person's family. Imagine their pain.”

Senior Superintendent of Police Calvin Allen, head of Traffic & Highway Division at the Jamaica Constabulary Force, warned that users of 'robot taxis' were putting themselves at risk as, in the event of a collision, they do not have insurance coverage.

Health Minister Christopher Tufton observed that road safety was a public health issue. “In the Savanna-la-Mar Hospital, beds are being taken up by persons who have been living recklessly, drinking and biking without helmets… a recipe for disaster.” Dr Tufton called for efforts to promote behaviour change as drunk and distracted driving was the cause of many collisions.

We had excellent mapping of hot spots by Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr of Mona Geo-Infomatics Institute; such data should strengthen the efforts of law enforcement. Paula Fletcher, NRSC executive director, noted that the long-awaited Road Traffic Act will promote greater discipline among road users and reminded attendees that 90 per cent of crashes were preventable.

Trek to MoBay and Negril

A weekend in my beloved Negril , Westmoreland, and a morning in Buff Bay, Portland, were like tonic for the soul. We met three generous citizens of Montego Bay on our way there — volunteers Norma Taylor, Joy Clark and Robert Goddard — for the planning of the upcoming launch of the Western Chapter of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP). Shona Heron has also pledged her assistance.

It was appropriate that we gathered at the legendary Pelican Grill, going strong for over 50 years, like our members. Our group mulled over the importance of keeping active in retirement and advocacy for the prevention of elderly abuse.

How were they doing with the ramped-up security in St James? They responded positively, noting that trust was being built and that they felt a greater sense of safety. As we drove along the coast we noted that there were many more Jamaican families enjoying beach outings than we had seen for a long time.

Sunday morning saw us at the quaint Mary Gate of Heaven Church in Negril, where mass is always preceded by a rousing gospel medley by some of the cutest children ever shaking their tambourines and singing lustily. You can always depend on Father Jim Bok for a witty and inspiring sermon to a congregation dressed in every imaginable type of attire. We headed home with an animated crocus bag of crabs, much to the delight of the family.

Science boost at Buff Bay High

Tuesday took us to Buff Bay High, where we were impressed with the well-kept school environment and the enthusiasm of Principal Sandra Buchanan, Head of Science Samuel Morgan, and other members of the faculty and staff. The school has over 850 students, and we watched budding scientists going through the paces in their newly renovated science lab — one of four sponsored by the Digicel Foundation over the past year.

Whenever someone has a passion for a cause their excitement is contagious. And so we were captivated by the addresses of Sadpha Bennett, national science coordinator in the Ministry of Education, and Digicel's senior manager for corporate relations, Trisha Williams-Singh, who is a dedicated advocate for early childhood education. Teacher Morgan took us to the lab storeroom and showed us the neat rows of microscopes and other equipment, including a brand-new refrigerator. “We cannot be more thankful,” he enthused.

To make our students employable, we need to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17 per cent and to produce millions of new opportunities globally in the next 10 years. In contrast, job growth in other professions is projected to be less than 10 per cent; moreover, STEM employees typically earn 26 per cent more than those in non-STEM positions.

In his message for the opening of the new lab, Portland Western Member of Parliament Daryl Vaz noted, “Buff Bay High School has become a champion in sports for the eastern part of the island. I expect now that its report card will reflect greater performance in the science subjects. As we all know, mathematics and the science subjects continue to present a challenge for our students. This renovation project should create the right ambiance and be instrumental in a better teaching [and] learning environment for our students.”

Having met these students and their dedicated teachers, I feel confident that we will see much improvement in the years to come at Buff Bay High School.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com

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