THE CRISIS in crime has captured our attention to the point that we have completely ignored another crisis in this country: education. Our anachronistic system of education, designed originally to focus on preparing the top ten per cent of the children for university, doesn’t measure up any longer. Don’t even mention its inability to meet the needs of the other 90 per cent.
In this technologically-driven information age, our students lack the analytical skills that they need for both entering university and entering the real world.
Tell me how many students do you see coming out of school who can reason their way through literature, spot fake news or understand what objective news is. Who has the basic skills needed to make an informed decision about how to vote? Who has been taught to deal with the anger issues that lead to crime?
This is by no means an indictment on our teachers who struggle nobly to reach their students while tethered to a curriculum that still smacks of colonialism.
We have not done a good job of creating a curriculum that instills the pride in the Caribbean I see whenever I go to schools and read from Making Waves: How the West Indies Shaped the US, which I wrote because I was appalled that ten per cent of the history curriculum focused on the US influence on the Caribbean.
Beaten down with the same curriculum that emphasises subjugation, slavery and colonialism, students from elementary school through secondary school learn that Caribbean people were a passive people with spurts of heroism that emerged in the independence and labour movement. These are important themes, but there is more to Caribbean history that is being ignored.
Our history needs to reflect other realities and include books that emphasise the place of art in our culture and the role of fashion as a form of protest. Books like Drawing for Days by Jackie Hinkson, the Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery by Judy Raymond and The Language of Dress: Resistance and Accommodation in Jamaica 1750-1890 by Steeve O Buckridge document history in a different way.
We need an educational revolution that discards textbooks and frees teachers to find books that capture students’ attention and builds the critical thinking and writing skills they need. Communication skills are poor. This is the first issue I try to fix in my programmes in prison. You get a different young man when you teach him how to communicate effectively, and that is not being done well enough in our schools.
The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Caribbean Biography Series offers the stories our secondary students need so they have a better understanding of Caribbean writers and their invaluable contribution to communication.
I want to hear students discuss the advantages and perils that Funso Aiyejina would have had in writing a biography about his friend Earl Lovelace for that series. Students need to read the biography from that series on Beryl McBurnie by Judy Raymond to understand that independence is a cultural movement – not just an independence movement.
These UWI biographies pack an amazing amount of information in 100 pages and they are exemplary models for academic writing and citation.
Literature in our history and English classes must be varied and it must address the values that we want to promote in this society. It must reflect their world and important, relevant issues.
Students respond to Wishing for Wings, a book about my first class in YTC, because they know boys like this in their world, and they need to see how easy it is to end up in prison in this country. They also need to read novels like The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall and Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart that deal with anger, self-esteem issues and crime.
Another Mother by Ross Kenneth Urken, which documents an American’s quest to find out more about his Jamaican nanny from his childhood, offers invaluable lessons about the contribution of poor Caribbean women to society. Children who have had hard-working mothers who served in jobs like nannies need to see how their mothers impact lives.
If we want to address crime in this country, we need to take a serious look at education. Scrap SEA and CXC and get down to the real business of education because the students we are marginalising get their education on the streets where their anger festers and turns on us. We can’t fix society’s problems until we address our problems in education.