Sunday, 29 December 2013

Political Parties and Campaign Financing

Jamaica’s two major political parties, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and the People’s National Party (PNP), have for far too long evaded the issue of campaign and party financing.  This avoidance of disclosing the source of campaign funding has fuelled and strengthened the perception in the society that politics is dirty, self-serving and corrupt. The recent developments in the court proceedings in Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) involving the head of a ponzi scheme has highlighted and exposed the dire urgency for both political parties and civil society to engage in dialogue with the primary purpose of addressing the issue by crafting the necessary legislation to deal with the matter.
The time has come for all law abiding and civic minded Jamaicans to demand more from, and hold our politicians to a higher standard than what currently exists. Transparency and accountability have always taken a back burner in the Jamaican society, and we must ensure that in a new paradigm of governance both transparency and accountability will be primary. The confiscation order issued by the Supreme Court in Turks and Caicos Islands reveals the clear and present threat that our democracy face should we allow business to continue as usual. There is a common proverb in the society which says, “He who pays the piper calls the tune” In order words if you are financing an undertaking, you have the right to say how it will be carried out. Financiers of political parties are not doing so out of the kindness of their hearts. These financiers expect favours or they expect to influence specific policies who may or may not be beneficial to the wider society should their party of choice forms the government. This proverb aptly reinforces the urgent need for us as a society to have full disclosure regarding contributions to political parties. We need to know from our political parties who are those contributing to the various political parties. We need to know the size of all contribution. We need to know also the source of funds for each contributor to political parties. These donors are contributing up to or in excess of US$5 Million/ J$450Million to election campaigns, far from peanut change you will agree. 
This turn of events have seriously tainted our political institutions and our politicians and beckons us as a society to call for men and women of integrity to serve Jamaica land we love.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Consumer, Did You Know?

The right to be informed is one of the basic rights of any consumer.  However, to be informed one must be proactive and educate one’s self about one’s rights and responsibilities as a consumer.  However if we fail to inform and educate ourselves we usually make decisions that reduce our financial resources and in some instances harm our health.
The search for consumer related information is usually made more difficult by manufacturers as they try and hide certain aspects of data necessary for us as consumers to make informed choices.
How many of us for example are aware that harmful chemicals are used in household furniture? Many of us have cushions, sofas and upholstery type furniture in our homes yet we know very little about the makeup of these furniture. Flame retardant foams are usually placed inside many types of upholstery type furniture and research is now showing that exposure to these retardants is responsible for a wide range of illnesses and disorders from cancers, birth defects, infertility to hyper-activity. Interestingly there are many classes of flame retardants and these are for the most part unregulated. Polyurethane which is commonly used in upholstery furniture is one of most harmful chemicals used and constant exposure to this chemical can cause serious health issues. Two especially vulnerable groups in the society to harmful chemicals are children and nursing mothers. Polyurethane is an extremely durable and flexible synthetic material used in many household items, such as pillows and mattresses. Polyurethane is known for emitting       (VOC, s) volatile organic compounds.
Additionally, we need to ask ourselves a few questions, what is the local regulatory agency doing to keep harmful chemicals out of furniture.
Does the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) conduct tests on local and foreign made furniture to determine what chemicals are being used and whether or not these chemicals are harmful to humans? Should the BSJ ask manufacturers (local, overseas) to state what flame retardants are used in their products? Should a ban be placed on any furniture which uses harmful chemicals to humans? Be a smart shopper this Christmas, conduct your background checks and ask questions it’s your right as a consumer. Ultimately your safety and the safety of your family rest with you!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It "Takes A Village" To Stop Rape

Disturbing news emerged recently that some female students were held at gunpoint and assaulted by an intruder at a St. Catherine based high school. This most vicious act shows the extent to which violence against females is still very much a cause for concern in the Jamaican society. Despite being a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Form of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Jamaica continues to experience high levels of violence against our women and girls. It appears that our government has fallen short in terms of putting in place mechanism and systems to protect our women folk from the almost daily assault on them. The society is shocked ever so often by the level of violence especially sexually assault meted out to the female sex in the society. However, in this latest despicable incident not much has been said publicly condemning this crime. We all should be disappointed and disgusted at the lack of public outcry and condemnation by civil society. Where are the women’s rights groups in the society? Our girls and females are being brutally attacked. Where is the voice of the church on this matter? What has happened to the voice of those state agencies with direct responsibility for the protection and well fare of our children? Why have you been so silent?
Perhaps as a society we have become immune to the high levels of violence which now characterize much of the society. It is very much disheartening that our children can no longer enjoy their childhood or feel safe in school. One would have thought that children would be safe in our educational institutions. Clearly this is not the situation. Too many of our schools are not properly fenced which allows for outsiders to gain access to the grounds of these institutions. Added to that a significant number of our schools lack adequate security and this requires urgent attention from all stakeholders’ involvement in the teaching and learning experience namely the school boards and the Ministry of Education.  In the past we have had teachers being attacked at school. The safety and protection of our teachers and students should be paramount, after all the children are the future of this country. It is reasonable to think that any parent or guardian would expect that his/her child would be safe at school, however, for this horrific incident to occur during school hours clearly this is not reassuring for parents regarding the safety of their children at school.    
The society for the most part has lost its sense of social consciousness and social justice.  Last year we were outraged by the brutal rape of five females including an eight year old girl in St. James. This year it is business as per usual. We are indeed a people with very short term memories!  Where is the public solidarity with the victims and their families?
We need to identify some workable solutions given our propensity to diagnose what is wrong with the Jamaican society without providing solutions. It is certainly taking the government a very long time to draft the necessary legislation for a sex offender’s registry. There was much discussion last year after the rape of the five females about creating such a database, however, nothing concrete has happened since then? The government needs to speedily institute a sex register to ensure that sexual predators can be monitored and give account of their whereabouts. We have created a culture of misogyny and now we are reaping the effects of such a culture. This is rather ironic given the fact that we have a female prime minister. This hatred is seen especially in some of our music where women are compartmentalized and sexualize and viewed only as sexual objects for the sexual gratification of the male of the species. Pregnant women are being murdered. Girls are being raped and child abuse is very much rampant. It is very likely that this perpetrator will not be caught given the police track record.
It’s very likely these girls will not have any justice. The restoration we seek as a society and a people must begin our schools. Given the dysfunction in many of our homes the best option for reversing the ills of the society is our educational institutions. We need to address the generalizations about women and the stereotypes about gender roles.  We need men of good report to join the discourse and speak out and engage in conversation with other men about finding ways of protecting our women. We cannot have long lasting development if our women are not protected and if our women are not included in the decision making process.
We need to re-socialize our males in the society so that they can be more respectful of our women. Probably we need to examine the national curriculum and find ways and means of incorporating social equality and human rights issues from grade seven to fifth form in order to address the societal imbalances regarding how we treat our females.
We need to sensitize and socialize our boys on matters of gender equality as well as the exploitation of women and children. We need to interrogate the deeply entrenched male biases and practices in the society which is counterproductive to the fully development and empowerment of women. The government has a tremendous role to play in this restoration process. The time is now for the government to establish a DNA database. This would be an additional mechanism to assist the police in solving crime. Of course the proper checks and balances to safeguard the rights of the citizenry must accompany such legislation.  We need to return to the Jamaican of old, where women and children were protected from abuse and exploitation. We need to awaken our collective responsibility and look out for each other once again. We need to remember that it takes a village to raise a child.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they relate to culture and or gender issues.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Talent, Creativity and the Performing Arts

Jamaica is rich in customs and traditions. Like most Jamaicans I look each year to celebrate and commemorate those mores which have added significantly to the quality of our lives. The pantomime which opens on its traditional December 26,(Boxing Day) is one such custom.  Over the years the national pantomime has become a main attraction for many Jamaicans especially for those visiting home during the Christmas period. The pantomime usually pokes fun at life in the Jamaican society and provides much comic relief on what are usually serious issues in the society. This gives us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves forgetting our problems even for a few hours. The pantomime has been a training ground for many of our best actors/actress and it continues to produce outstanding talents in the field of theatre and the performing arts.
Jamaicans are very talented and creative people; in fact our sons and daughters have dominated in various fields globally ranging from sports, medicine and music. Jamaica is not short where talent is concern.  Notwithstanding this we need to ask ourselves why is it that over the years the pantomime script writer has not changed.  In order to facilitate more Jamaicans being a part in the pantomime at the level of script writing why not have a competition for script writers? The best judged script writer for that year would be asked to produce the pantomime for that year as the prize for winning.
As a society we have not given sufficient support to the “arts” in Jamaica whether from a private sector standpoint or from the level of government.  Let us recommit ourselves to restoring the Ward Theatre for 2014. The Ward Theatre over the years has been instrumental in honing the skills of many of our luminaries in the field of theatre. By restoring the Ward Theatre we will provide more opportunities and space for those in the creative arts to showcase their creativity and talent.  Democracy thrives with a variety of views and ideas instead of having a monopoly of ideas.  I look forward to seeing this year’s pantomime “Golden Maccafat”.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Post Office in the 21st Century

The tradition of sending postcards at Christmas is nearly as old as the celebration of Christmas itself. Sending postcards may seem like a waste of time to some especially in today’s society when one can easily and instantly share one’s experiences with friends and family through the various social media, such as, Facebook and Instagram. However, there are many traditionalists in the society who prefer to adhere to this fast eroding practice in the digital age in which we live. In recent time the pleasure of sending postcards has become burdensome and time consuming because of the number of stamps that are required for international postage some destinations.  On a recent visit to the post office it took me quite a while to complete placing a significant number of stamps on postcards. This was primarily because the post office either did not have stamps above $100 value or they were out of higher value stamps regardless of the reason we need to look into it. At this Yuletide time of year everyone knows or should know that there is likely to be an increase in the demand for stamps. The office of the Post Master General has the responsibility to ensure that post offices operate efficiently and as such this office needs to look into the possibility of adding higher value stamps if they are not already in circulation. This would reduce the number of stamps required to mail postcards overseas.  Going to the post office should be a pleasant experience and those in authority should do all in their power to ensure this. The office of the Post Master General must be sensitive to the needs of the public and put measures in place to accommodate and ensure a satisfying visit to the post office for all members of the public. Maybe this is part of the reason the Jamaican postal service is losing its relevance in today’s society.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Improve Police Response Time

In the aftermath of last week’s tragic incident in St. Elizabeth in which a teenager was allegedly

killed by her child’s father the time has come for the police high command to establish minimum

guidelines for response time for our law enforcement officers. While this occurs in other

jurisdictions Jamaica is once again lagging behind where this is concerned. This guideline should be

for all police stations across the island regardless of location.
I am very much aware that staffing the police force is extremely challenging, more so in this period of recession and financial constraints, however, it is very clear that we must find additional resources to adequately equip our police officers in order for them to do their job. It is only after this has been done that we can hold them fully accountable for not responding promptly. Minimum response time should become a part of standard operational procedures in the future and should be a part of the curriculum at the police training college. It cannot be business as per usual!
Whether someone had just broke into hour home, or whether someone has threatened you or your family the first instinct is to call the police for help. It cannot be that in your time of need as a law abiding citizen the police is not in a position to assist because their vehicle is being used to transport prisoners.
Too often we hear of reports of individuals requesting assistance from the police only to be told that no vehicles are available or worse yet no petrol is available for the vehicle.  This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated anymore!
Who knows maybe the outcome in St. Elizabeth could have been different had the Nain police responded to the call from the deceased grandmother for help. According the grandmother she called both the Nain and Alligator Pond Police Stations repeatedly for assistance. Obviously too much time was allowed to pass before the police finally arrived on the scene. This crime was probably preventable.
The principle of community policing will not be served if our police officers are not viewed favourably by the community in which serve. Effective policing is not only about increasing the number of police men and men in the force; it is also about facilitating them to effectively respond to the needs of the citizenry in a timely and professional manner. It is commendable that the commissioner of police has launched an investigation into the matter. Let us use this most regrettable experience to put some corrective measures in place so as not to have a repeat of this most unfortunate incident.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Internet Penetration in the 21st Century

Internet penetration is the percentage of a population using the internet. Jamaica’s rate of internet is not very encouraging. Despite significant progress made over the last decade Jamaica continues to have a relatively low internet penetration rate.  In fact St. Lucia at number 11 is the only Caribbean island listed among the top fifty countries with highest internet penetration rate. St. Lucia has an internet penetration rate of 88.5%. Jamaica on the other hand has an internet penetration rate of 54.7%. Iceland is ranked number one with a 97.8% internet penetration rate.

There are many factors which have negatively impacted Jamaica’s level of internet penetration rate.  One such factor is clearly in the realm of economics. It is simply too expensive for the average Jamaican household to purchase a laptop or any device with internet capability. A CPU for example, cost roughly $60,000. Recently I checked a few stores in the corporate area to enquire about a Central Processing Unit (CPU) and I was shocked at the prices quoted. The cost ranged from $56,000 to $67, 000 and this is without a monitor. This is outrageous and unacceptable! The prohibitive cost to acquire a personal computer needs to be tackled with a sense of urgency. We need to find creative means of bridging what is obviously a social- class divide. One way of addressing the digital divide between the wealthy and the working poor is for the government to use some of funds from the account that the telecoms providers pay into and established outlets island wide which would then sell laptops and personal computers at a reduced cost. If we are serious about education we should examine the possibility of giving our teachers for example, some level of discount to acquire laptop and personal computers as this is a vital tool in the teaching and learning process. Owning a computer should not be viewed as luxury instead it should be seen as a necessary development tool which our youths should have ready access to. Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a direct relationship between the rate of internet penetration and the United Nations Human Development Index. In that the higher the HDI the greater the proportion of the population uses the internet.
The Human Development Index HDI is a statistical tool used to measure a country’s overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions.  The social and economic dimensions of a country are based on the health of a people, their level of education attainment and their standard of living.
It makes little sense investing in island wide Fiber Optics Internet when the client on whose behalf the investment is being made will be unable to access the hardware due to financial constraints. There is no reason for a laptop/personal computer to be so expensive in Jamaica especially given the rapid changes in the technology which almost makes a computer obsolete soon after purchase. There is just not the disposable income to spend on computers after one pays his/her bills. We must and should do more have every Jamaican household own a personal computer. Interestingly when one visits the websites of major international suppliers of computers the prices are far less than our local suppliers even at an exchange rate of $106 Jamaican dollars to $1US. This clearly tells us that our local suppliers can lower their prices.  
The second factor impacting Jamaica’s rate of internet penetration is the literacy level of our society.  The top five countries with the highest rate of internet penetration all have literacy levels over 97 per cent. There is a co-relationship between the rate of internet penetration and literacy levels. Iceland has a 99% literacy level, so too is Norway which is ranked number 2.
We cannot speak in a vacuum in the discourse to raise the Jamaica’s internet penetration rate without addressing the related factors which directly impact the situation. We must find creative ways of increasing the literacy levels among our people. As a society we engender and foster a culture of reading which presently does not exist.
This fact is more pronounced among our males and this is evidence in the yearly Grade Four Literacy Test (GFLT) which is administered by the Ministry of Education in which boys score less than girls. This trend is again seen in grade 6 when our primary level students sit the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) to gain a place in high school. The literacy level for St. Lucia is 88.5% literacy level while Jamaica’s literacy rate is around 86%.  
Additionally we need to make a determined effort to reduce the cost associated with having internet access. Internet service cost is just too high! It does not make much sense neither to own a personal computer but unable to access internet because the cost is too prohibitive.
A collaborative effort will be needed if we are going to have an increase in the rate of internet penetration. An increase rate of internet penetration promotes a viable and competitive business environment and will definitely attract well needed investment to our country which is necessary to help us out of the economic rut that we are currently experiencing.   

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Squatting Promotes Garrisons

THE GOVERNMENT has signalled its intention to rid the Jamaican society of all gangs and dismantle all garrisons in the wake of the assault on west Kingston. While this seems to be an ambitious and commendable task it should not end there.
The Government also needs to tackle the issue of squatting and the emergence of unplanned settlements throughout the entire country. There is a clear connection between garrisons/dons and unplanned settlements. When these unplanned settlements are allowed to develop it inevitably calls for a leadership issue, and this usually ends up with a don emerging. It is the abandonment of the State to provide basic needs for the citizenry that has led to the emergence of dons and garrisons.
Second, there is the issue of the commercialisation of residential areas, especially where sidewalk garages are concerned. This social problem adds greatly to the erosion of the quality of life for law-abiding citizens, as well as create an opportunity for area leaders to emerge in these area. Successive governments over the years have promised to address this problem. However, the problem has now spiralled out of control.
A third issue of concern is to widen the tax net. Too many working Jamaicans are not paying taxes; this adds pressure to those of us who are pay-as-you-earn employees. We need to share the burden if our society is to become equitable.
The final issue of concern is the restructuring of the education system to cater more to our males. What currently exists does not adequately addresses the needs of our males and, as a result, each year the society loses many males who fall through the cracks in the system. They then become prime targets for a life of crime and violence.
Too often governments adopt a top-down approach to development instead of a bottom-up approach. This tendency oftentimes does not capture the experiences and ideas of the average person.
My wish is that this time our Government will depart from what is the norm and engage the people more in the development process.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Lessons to be learnt from our Education System

It is imperative that as a society we reflect on the successes of the education system and learn as much from its failures with the aim of improving the system. While most of our children continue to do relatively well at the secondary level, there are many others who have been given a disservice by the stakeholders of the education system especially those students who attend non-traditional high schools. The stakeholders of the education system including the Ministry of Education has been rather short-sighted in not doing enough to ensure that all students leaving high school leave so with some form of certification.
The Caribbean Certificate of Secondary Level Competence (CCSLC) examination for the most part is widely misunderstood by both educators and students. The CCSLC examination was developed by the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) primarily to prepare individuals to participate fully as productive members of Caribbean societies throughout the region.
The last three years a significant number of our high school pupils have graduated without having the opportunity to sit any external based examination and consequently have been denied the chance to be certified as competent in any given field.
The CCSLC examination targeted pupils who were enrolled mainly at upgraded high schools since the majority of those pupils for varied reasons were not ready to sit the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations. It should be noted that the government of Jamaica was responsible for paying the fees for candidates to sit this examination.
However, with the suddenness of Jamaica’s decision to discontinue this exam many students were left out in the cold. The City and Guilds (United Kingdom) based examination which was suggested by the Ministry of Education as one such alternative is much too expensive for the average student especially when one considers that a student would probably sit a minimum of four subjects.
The Ministry of Education therefore needs to revisit that policy decision that of pulling Jamaica out of the CCSLC examination, and or put measures in place so that we do not have a repeat of what happened this year in which hundreds of students graduating from secondary schools without any form of certification. This is just unacceptable in an age of global competitiveness and technology. The Education ministry needs to pay more attention to schools in the category of upgraded high school. As a society we see the premium parents and students place on getting into those brand names high schools after the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). Our children certainly deserve better and those who are in positions to influence policies should do so to benefit all children not only some.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Age of Consent

Not very often do we come across an issue which has the ability to ignite and sustain a public debate in the Jamaican society such as the issue of the age of sexual consent. In criminal law, the age of sexual consent is the age at which a person is considered to be capable of legally giving consent to sexual acts with another person. An individual who engages in sex with someone below the age of sexual consent commits a crime called carnal abuse. In Jamaica the age of sexual consent is sixteen (16) years old. In many other jurisdictions the age of sexual consent ranges from as young as twelve (12) years old to as old as twenty (21) years. Mexico is one of few countries with the age of sexual consent being at age 12. In the United States Of America the age of sexual consent ranges from a low of thirteen (13) years old (New Mexico) to a high of eighteen (18) years old (California).
Legal and Cultural Attitudes
Legal and cultural attitudes have over time influenced the age of sexual consent in many societies. In the mid-19th century it was very common to have the age of sexual consent ranging from a low of ten (10) years old to a high of thirteen (13) years old. By the end of the 20th century, cultural and legal attitudes and practices assisted in getting the age of consent increased, this was now ranging from fifteen to eighteen years old. In Jamaica the discourse has continued with many sharing the opinion that the age of sexual consent should be raised from 16 to 18 years old. There still exist today in the Jamaican society a few sexual myths which foster a culture of men having sex with young girls. Sadly and disturbingly some males still believe that certain sexual transmitted infections (STI’s) can be cured by having sexual intercourse with a virgin. It is also believed that the younger the girl is the more likely she will be a virgin. As a result some of our men folk will have sexual intercourse with underage girls in the belief that they will cure themselves. Of course all this does of course is to infect the girl with the sexually transmitted infection (STI's). Another issue in our culture which fosters some of our men having sex with underage girls is that of the sugar "daddy syndrome". This "sugar daddy syndrome" is one in which older men are sought out by young girls sometimes at the urging of the girl's mother, this is done because it is believed that these older men are in a better financial position than younger men to "look after" these young girls. Of course like any other transaction, it’s a two way process, the (older) man will expect some sort of sexual favour in return for spending his money on this girl.
The Jamaican Constitution stipulates that a citizen must reach the age of eighteen (18) years before he or she can vote. Eighteen is also the age at which one is allowed to work full time, these two very important milestones of achieving adulthood is in direct contrast and conflicts with the age of sexual consent which is currently at 16 years old. By increasing the age of sexual consent to 18 years we would be sending the correct message instead of this mixed message that is now being sent to our youngsters. On one hand we tell our young people that at age 16 they can give the consent to have sexual intercourse and on the other hand we tell them that they are not yet adults and we forbid them to participate in adult activities in our society such as the right to vote. By leaving the age of sexual consent at 16 years old we are in fact agreeing to our young people becoming parents. Pregnancy is one result of unprotected sex which is what happens in most instances of underage sexual intercourse.

Rights of the Child
 As we celebrate Youth Month and commemorate World Day for the prevention of Child Abuse let us be mindful of the increasing number of young girls in particular who are HIV positive.  Let us remember those of our children who are victims of child abuse and  human trafficking.
A significant number of who were infected before they were at the age of giving consent to sex. Universally children are protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child aims to set minimum standards for the protection of children against discrimination, neglect and abuse they face daily. Jamaica is both a signatory to the Convention, as well as, the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  
The Rights of the Child can be broadly grouped into three sections. These are; Provision Rights: the right to possess, receive or have access to a name, nationality, education, health care, rest and play and care for the disabled and orphans. Protection Rights: the right to shielded from harmful acts and practices, for example, protection from commercial and sexual exploitation and the final category is that of Participation; The Child’s right to be heard, for example, freedom of speech and opinion.
I am very much aware that a mere increase in the age of sexual consent will not solve all the problems associated with the exploitation, discrimination and abuse of our children. However, in addition to increasing the age of sexual consent we should ensure that the laws are enforced and that the perpetrators of crimes against our children are punished to the fullest extent of the law. Another issue of grave concern is that of our legal and justice system. It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied and very often due to the overcrowded justice system many victims get frustrated and abandoned their quest for justice. It is very clear that more funding is needed in order to protect those among us who are most vulnerable which in most cases are the very young and the very old, as well as our women folk. Our males also need to be re-socializing to some extent regarding sexual responsibility as well as to what it means to be a man. How can a grown man have sexual intercourse with a minor? How can a father have sex with his own daughter or step daughter? Research has revealed that some of the mothers also know what is happening to their daughter; however, sadly to say we still have those mothers who refuse from taking any action about the sexual abuse and exploitation of their daughters. Shame on those mothers! Sometimes these mothers fear losing the financial support from their spouse. However, is it better to lose our own daughter than to lose the financial support from your significant other?

Our boys are not to be overlooked. Boys too can and are indeed sexually abused and exploited. The care and protection of children should not be gender specific but gender neutral. The time has come for men to have an official “space” in the society. Why is it that a unit in the Ministry of Culture cannot be formed to address the issues boys and men face in the society? Gender rights are about the rights of both men and women. We can all contribute in making Jamaica a better place to live. Our state agencies which are there to oversee the welfare and protection of our children need to step up the pace to ensure that all our children are safe.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Find GSAT Replacement

 In recent times the call for the abolition of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) has gotten louder. From the halls of academia to the verandas of the average Jamaican there has been and continue to be a growing body of public opinion calling for the Ministry of Education to find a replacement measuring tool to place our primary school students into high schools. The Grade Six Achievement Test is a placement examination, that is, regardless of the score of the candidate that individual will be placed at a high school. The areas of concern I have regarding the GSAT examination are twofold. Firstly, the GSAT examination is elist at best and secondly, the exam is not a true reflection of the candidate’s scholastic ability. The elitist nature of the GSAT exam is reinforced by the Ministry of Education in two ways. The top performers of the exams are sent to a limited number of high schools and candidates with the lowest scores are also sent to limited number low performing high schools. Therefore from day one the selection process is flawed and plays into the socio-economic divide that is so evident and pervasive throughout the society. By following such a policy we have schools in where the same kinds of students are the majority, this can be good, however, most times it is bad. To locate the negative results of this policy one only has to look at the 'struggling' schools as highlighted by the recent report of the Inspectorate Unit of the Ministry of Education. Most of those students at those schools share a dysfunctional, disruptive, maladaptive code of behaviour, not to mention many have learning challenges. Education should at best be that catalyst to bridge a society not serve to widen the gap between the 'haves' and 'have- nots; . With regards to the GSAT not being a true measurement of a students, ability, I use the example of one subject or component of the exam, that of Communication Task. This exam is divided into two parts, one is the essay section marked out of 6, and the other is a short answer section which requires students to fill out information using a given prompt, this component is also marked out of 6. In quite a number of instances a student who scores six marks out of twelve in Communication Task could be seen as being an average student by virtue of scoring fifty (50%) percent. However, that same candidate can omit to do the essay section or may have scored zero in that section. This scenario happens too often than not and can be interpreted by a given school that the student entering their institution is an average student in that subject. Of course this would be far from the truth as many of those 'average' students could be and should be classified as functional illiterates. How did these students reach to the GSAT level? Did these students sit the Grade Four Literacy Test? Or is it a situation where too many cracks are in the education system and not enough checks and balances? Maybe we should look at zoning our schools and placing students at a school within their zone?  What is clear is that we need to revisit the issue of our GSAT examination with a clear mandate at arriving at a better and more equitable way of placing our students in high schools?

Monday, 25 November 2013

Electronic Collection Plate

Technology has changed people and their lives. The past century has seen the most significant changes to our lives than any other period in history due to advance technology. Not to be outdone the church has embraced the technological advances of the time and may I say the church will never be the same again.  Having said that it has been tested and proven time and time again that whenever an institution moves away from its core function failure is never too far behind.
The church as we know it was established to spread the Gospel of Christ and in so doing to win souls for the kingdom of God. However, in recent times the church has been moving more and more away from its mandate founding principles and by so doing the impact of the church has diminished. How else can you explain a man being shot and killed at the altar of church or criminal stealing church equipment?
It is indeed very troubling and frightening to see where Jamaica has reached in her journey from Emancipation to Independence. Another cause of concern is the move by some of our churches to use electronic collection plates. It has become common place to see members of some congregation swiping their debit and credit cards on a Sunday during church service. While one can argue the merit of having “plastic” instead of having cash in terms of safety for members this in my opinion sends the wrong signal in terms of focusing on collection of funds and the exclusivity this medium present itself.  In light of the fact that there is the perception that the church is mainly concerned with collecting offering this discriminatory practice only serves to reinforce and cement society view of the modern day church.
Nothing is wrong in principle with embracing the technology of the time in which we live; however, when the use of the technology serves more to isolate and divide the church we must be careful and not rush to embrace.
Like all of us the church needs to embark on a bit of soul searching. The time has come for the church to return to its core mandate, that of winning souls.
We should not allow ourselves to become slaves to the technology of the time in which we live. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Saint Mak Chapter 11 verses 22-26

22And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.
23For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.
24Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.
25And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
26But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Volkswagen Advertisement- Jamaican Style

Yes, we all had an option about the Volkswagen Super Bowl advertisement featuring a white male American office worker with a Jamaican accent.  In viewing the advertisement one was immediately reminded of the Jamaican proverb which says “wi lickle but wi tallawah”. For a major automobile manufacturer such as the German carmaker Volkswagen to use our dialect in a major advertisement it speaks volume of Jamaica’s greatness and influence despite her relatively small size on the map.  Like any controversial topic there are arguments for both sides of the debate. Those who object to the advertisement argue that the advertisement is racist and offensive to Jamaica and Jamaicans. However, we tend to forget that although the majority of Jamaicans are black and are from an African heritage Jamaica is a pluralistic society with many ethnic groups represented. There are Chinese Jamaicans; Jamaicans of Indian descent and of course white Jamaicans.  Additionally, there are also Jews in Jamaica and Muslims all in keeping with Jamaica’s motto “Out Of Many One People”.
What if Volkswagen had used a white Jamaican to play the main character in the advertisement would we be having this discussion about the ad being racist, clearly we would not.
Racism is the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and this and this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others.  We clearly need to answer the question when did Jamaica become a race?
I found it rather interesting and disturbing to have watched the Today Show on NBC last week during which a white female American advertising expert was asked by Matt Lauer to comment on the Volkswagen advertisement. This so called expert said the advertisement was offensive to Jamaicans. How can someone who is not Jamaican speak so about what offends us as a people?  Clearly she spoke in ignorance like all those who are of the view the advertisement is racist.  Those who speak in without the required knowledge clearly need to do their research and get their facts correct, Jamaica is more diverse and complex than many of us would like to believe.
The Super Bowl has become a main staple for the American culture and landscape and within the last few years the Super Bowl has had a viewership of over one hundred million persons in the United States of America alone.  In fact according to the well respected and leader in market research The Nielson Company reported that the 2011 Super Bowl had over 111 million persons making it the most watched programme ever. I urge the Jamaica Tourist Board to capitalize on this moment and the exposure that no doubt brand Jamaica will get from this Volkswagen advertisement. Hundreds of millions of individuals watched Super Bowl 2013 and no doubt this advertisement showcased Jamaica in a humorous and positive way that no local advertising campaign could have conceptualized.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

The Positive Benefits of Scouting

For the most part our school age boys and young men refuse from taking part in extracurricular activities.  Involvement in uniform groups especially for our males has become a rarity in the Jamaican society. It was a rather refreshing sight to have seen a young man dressed in full scout uniform making his way to school last Friday while on my way to work. This occurrence signalled to me that all is not lost in Jamaica despite the harsh economic times and the struggles we face daily as a people.
As a society we need to revitalize the scouting movement in Jamaica and encourage our children especially our young men to get involved in positive extra-curricular activities such as this. Scouting was started in the early 1900,s by Robert Baden-Powell and is still very much relevant today as it was back then. The Scouting organization works towards giving young men the knowledge, skills and life lessons that will help them mature and succeed as they become adults. In an era when many of our boys are facing a crisis of masculinity, a sense of despair and under achievement, the scouting organization offers boys a variety of benefits including friendship, cooperation, leadership skills and character building.   Too many of our boys are only interested in the “G Factor”, that is, guns, girls, gangs, ganja and gaza/gully (counted collectively). We need to work harder to expose and re-socialise our boys into other areas of the culture in order to have them as well rounded and productive members of the society.
With almost fifty per cent of Jamaican households headed by females, scouting can be used and should be used to bridge the gap to provide positive male role models to our boys.  As more and more parents and guardians take on extra working hours in order to earn additional income to make ends meet we are most likely to see an increase in the need for safe and productive avenues for boys to get involved in some structured after school programme. Scouting should be in all our schools. However, too many of our schools do not have this offering; we must know ask ourselves why this is so and put measures in place to address this. Too many of Jamaica’s youths are at risk and are in need of rescuing.
As a worldwide brotherhood, Scouting is unique. It is based on the principles of loving and serving God, human dignity and the rights of individuals, and of recognizing the obligation of members to develop and use their potential.
In order for us to have a better society, a society in which we can live peacefully, as well as, raise families and work, we need to offer the necessary support and incentives to our uniformed groups and organizations to carry out their mandate of equipping the next generations with the necessary skills to help us realize the 2030 vision of become a developed society.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Inspirational Song

Inspirational Song

Time To Give Men Attention!

It is time for men to take center stage. International Men’s Day is an annual global event celebrated on November 19. The focus of this international occasion serves to highlight the various forms of discrimination and challenges our males face, as well as, to celebrate the positive contributions, accomplishments and varied experiences of being male.  For far too long this very important day has not found the buzz it deserves in the Jamaican landscape. However, this can be explained because we live in a society and indeed geographical region where the rights and issues of males are not historically viewed as important and therefore men’s rights are hardly taken seriously more so discussed in a meaningful manner.
 The theme for this year “Keeping men and boys safe” is rather appropriate and timely given the on-going debate regarding how neglectful  some of our males have become regarding the lack of attention they pay to their health and other supporting issues necessary for them to be safe and to indeed remain safe.   Notwithstanding this fact as a developing society we are still a far way off from realizing that in order to have harmonious gender relations between both sexes there must be the requisite awareness and support to those issues surrounding and impacting our boys and men.
In celebration of International Men’s Day there are five very important areas of concern which require our collective efforts in order to keep men and boys safe and by extension our families and communities. These are:
Keeping men and boys safe by tackling male suicide, secondly, keeping boys safe so they can become tomorrow’s role models, thirdly, tackling our tolerance of violence against men and boys, the fourth area of concern is boosting men’s life expectancy by keeping men and boys safe from avoidable illness and death and last but by no means least keeping men and boys safe by promoting fathers and male role models.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), men are three times more likely to commit suicide. This gender disparity in suicidal rates can be partly explained by the fact that men tend to use more lethal means of taking their lives such as hanging and shooting. We live in a society where the issue of mental health is not readily spoken about. The tendency is for us to exclude from social events members of our families who suffer from mental disorders in an attempt to paint a picture of sanity for those looking on. Jamaica is considered to have a low suicidal rate of around 2.26 per 100.000. However more can and should be done to reduce this rate. The Jamaican culture also plays a significant role in explaining why our males often times shy away from going to the doctor. Our boys for the most part are socialized to be rough and tough and unfortunately seeking medical attention is not in sync with this notion of masculinity to which we adhere to. As men we usually wait and wait until the pain has become unbearable and intolerable before we seek out medical care. This tendency certainly has negative implications for the quality of life for our men. It can be argued that men are socialized in a gendered manner.  A male who readily seeks medical attention is not viewed favourably by other males and indeed the wider society as this is not considered as manly or macho. As a result many men suffer in silence from various health issues, a significant part of this suffering also impacts the mental status of our men. Men are always the last to go and talk with a counsellor or psychiatrist because of pride and the male ego.  No wonder the suicidal rates for men are higher than that for women.  Additionally, the accessibility and affordability of mental care should be of grave concern, not enough public sector mental health facilities of mental health practitioners exist in our society and even where it exits the cost can be prohibitive for many males especially the working class and the unemployed male.
The issue of positive role models for our young men to emulate cannot be overstated. Positive male leadership is woefully lacking across all sectors of the Jamaican society. Our institutions of socialization namely the school and church are themselves struggling with the same problem. Our female dominated schools and classrooms provide very little avenue for our males to be mentored and or emulate male leadership.  With more and more families being headed by females there has been and continues to be the urgent need for men of good character and standing in the society to mentor our boys. A mother cannot teach her son how to be a man.
From the moment a male is born he can expect to live a shorter life than his female counterpart in almost most countries of the world. In Jamaica the life expectancy rate for males is 71.5 years compared to 75 years for females. A number of factors can be forwarded to explain why men die earlier than women. One such school of thought is the fact that men tend to be more violent and aggressive in nature than women.  According to Glen Poole in his book: Equality for Men” Every year over 500,000 people die from violence and eighty three (83 %) per cent of them are men and boys. There is clearly a need for a campaign for the elimination of violence against men and boys globally. There should be zero- tolerance of violence against any male regardless of his socio-economic background, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Addressing each of these challenges male face will great assist men and boys all over the world to be safe and live longer, happier and healthier.  
In keeping our boys and men we must examine the society in which we live. For the most part we live in a very violent society. In fact most of the victims and perpetrators of crimes are males. According to the Jamaica Constabulary Force Statistics Division Jamaica recorded 1045 murders in 2002, this number increased to 1335 in 2006. A worrying trend is the high levels of participation of children especially males in criminal activities. Data provided from the 2006 Economic Social Survey of Jamaica (ESSJ) stated that children especially boys, alarmingly some as young as aged twelve were identified as offenders for a significant proportion of all major crimes. It is very clearly that we are failing our youths especially our adolescent males if it is that so many of them are turning to a life of crime or will become a victim of a criminal activity. Our boys cannot and will not succeed in such a violent and unsafe environment. The overwhelming majority of our street kids are males some of whom are of school age and should be attending school instead of begging or wiping car windows at major intersections across the country. Given the budgetary constraints more can and should be done for these youngsters.
The emphasis is now on the wider society to partner with the state to implement enrichment programmes to adequately address the special needs of our males in order to transform their lives.
The Jamaican state has been rather silent regarding raising the awareness of men’s issues. We need to focus our attention on early cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment of male cancers especially prostate cancer which is rather prevalent in the society.  Promoting gender equality must include examining those specific issues affecting and impacting men separate and apart from those of women. It cannot be that the issues of men are boxed in a state entity which for the most part only serves the women’s rights.  The time has come for us as a society to be bold and proactive and replace the Bureau of Women’s Affairs with a Bureau of Gender and Development Affairs to be more inclusive of the specific needs and issues of both sexes. Our boys continue to under-perform and under achieve at all levels of the education system in the society from the primary to the tertiary level.  No doubt this disturbing trend will continue for some time if it is that as a society are boys do not feel a sense of security and safety in the space they occupy and manoeuvre on a daily basis.   One way to address the plight of our disadvantaged and at risk boys is by means of “recuperative masculinity politics” which calls for a reasserting of masculine privileges in light of the fact the specific needs of our boys are subsumed under the priority given to girls.
We seriously need to revisit our national gender policy with the aim to ensure that neither sex is being disadvantaged.
On this very important day let us celebrate our collective masculinity while at the same time recognizing our differences as men. Let us recommit and regain our roles in our families as we work towards improving gender relations and promote unity in the Jamaican society. 
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Introduce Character Education In Schools

AS we continue to struggle as a society with issues of values and attitudes, the time has come for us to examine the possibility of introducing the teaching of character education into the school curriculum at both the primary and secondary levels of the education system.
We need to stop and take a serious look at the society, since it appears that we lack the fortitude and wherewithal to produce men and women of good character. February 2013 was one of the most embarrassing for the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). In two instances, six of their members were arrested and another is on the run for their alleged involvement in harbouring a criminal, robbery, and facilitating the escape of a prisoner. It should be very clear to all of us that without positive and good character, corruption intensifies.
The teaching of character education should be compulsory in all public institutions of learning at the early childhood, primary and secondary levels of the education system.

Corruption has become embedded and entrenched in the social fabric of the society over the years and it will take a strategic, collective and deliberate effort to rid the society of this destructive monster, and as such we must begin with the future of the society — our children. We must ensure that our children are given the tools necessary to develop into citizens who have acquired positive social skills after learning the basic tenets of decency. Since it appears that our homes have failed in this regard, the onus is now on our schools to try and bridge the gap left by parents who have abandoned their duties.
Character education is simply about how people treat each other. As a society we do not treat each other well. We kill and maim recklessly and we abuse our sons and daughters. We drive badly and curse each other on the roads daily. We spew out hate and show levels of intolerance against those in the society whom we view as different and threatening, failing to recognise that what binds us together as a people surpasses that which separates us.
Character education is the deliberate effort to develop virtues that are good for the individual and society by affirming our human dignity. Values such as respect, responsibility, caring, fairness, justice, choices, safety, tolerance, knowledge are only some of the ideals with are associated with the teaching of character education.
These values have become even more important in the teaching and learning experience of the 21st century since more and more of our students are exposed to issues of bullying, school violence, sexting and pornography, which continue to create havoc for school administrators, parents and the wider student population. It is important that we facilitate and expose our students to all the necessary tools and skills which will make them into better adults. There will be some who will argue that Social Studies is currently being taught in our schools. However, some of the traditional high schools did not include Social Studies among the subjects that they offer, and even when these schools offer Social Studies it's an option and not compulsory.
The teaching of character education should be compulsory in all public institutions of learning at the early childhood, primary and secondary levels of the education system.
Global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, ranked Jamaica at 83 out of 176 in their 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Since 2010, Jamaica's ranking has been improving. However, the society is still stigmatised as corrupt.
Interestingly, in 2009 Transparency International warned that Jamaica was likely to succumb to what is referred to as state capture.
The term is used to describe a situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country use corruption to influence policies, the legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests. We must act with a sense of urgency and dispatch, and implement serious measures to tackle corruption at all levels. If we fail to do so, then the prophecy of a 'state capture' will in fact come true. We can and should implement inexpensive and corrective measures such as the teaching of character education in our schools.
In recent times there has been a growing body of research that supports the idea that the teaching of character education results in the improvement in academic performance, students' behaviour and attitudes. Students who are taught character education at an early age are more likely to succeed in higher education as well as in their careers.
Marvin Berkowitz, Professor of Character Education at the University of Missouri - St Louis, in his well-reasoned and logical synopsis of the issue, believes that students who attend schools where they feel valued and safe will work harder. One certainly cannot argue against his hypothesis as this makes much sense.
Surely, before we get to the academics which is the primary focus of our institutions of learning, we must inculcate a culture of respect for self and for others if our schools and the wider society are going to be places of safety for all of us to live, work and raise families.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.

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The Self-Righteous Among Us Are At It Again!

 Published Monday, November 04, 2013-Jamaica Observer

BEFORE we rush to condemn we should all try and remember the numerous times we have had lapses in judgement in our younger days. He or she that is without fault please indicate now.
The overarching tendency in our society is to be characterised by short-term memory. We oftentimes forget that each generation of Jamaicans, like in any other society, tries as much as possible to push the envelope regarding decency and acceptable behaviour.

Having viewed the footage from the two-year-old Maggotty High School "bashment" video, I did not react with the typical jaw-dropping, knee jerking, shock and awe response as was the usual reaction from a significant portion of the Jamaican society. We live in an over-sexualised society, in which we are constantly being bombarded by sexual images and nuances by a media more concerned about their profit line than what is broadcast. One only has to view local television on a Saturday afternoon to easily see similarities in the music videos being shown there and the Maggotty video. Then again, hypocrisy and classism are two other characteristics of the society in which we live and as such I do not expect my instruction to change people's long-standing biases.
The ever-evolving changes in the technology of this century have afforded us the luxury to witness real-time events regardless of where we are on the planet. We are able to videotape events, share files and email, as well as download and upload images at the click of a mouse. This is probably where youthful exuberance does have
its disadvantages.
The fact is we all have failed in our collective responsibilities in grooming and raising the next generation of Jamaicans. To begin with, most of our homes are dysfunctional and our parents lack positive parenting skills. For the most part, our youngsters are aware of themselves in a sexual and sensuous manner mainly because of the society we have shaped for them. Too many of your youngsters have no sense of self as it relates to decency and discipline. The 'spiritual self' of which many of us, as older Jamaicans, are aware and find very relevant and important is fast fading, and to a large extent has become almost non-existent for a significant number of younger Jamaicans.
We share a history in which food and dance are used to celebrate achievements and used as markers for significant milestones. Unfortunately, unlike other cultures the Jamaican society does not identify with a rite of passage, which is a necessary cultural form and ceremony which allows for the transition between childhood to adulthood. Such ceremonies serve as important markers in a person's life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, childbirth, and death. Rites of passage usually involve ritual activities and teachings designed to strip individuals of their original roles and prepare them for new roles. The traditional American wedding ceremony is such a rite of passage. In many so-called primitive societies, some of the most complex rites of passage occur at puberty, when boys and girls are initiated into the adult world. In our context, high school graduations are probably the nearest event we have and celebrate as a sort of quasi rite of passage. So how do youngsters know when they are permitted adult behaviour?
What if the genre of music was different? What if the video was done to soca/calypso music; the choice of music for more affluent Jamaicans? What if the school involved was an "uptown" one? Smell the hypocrisy?
Each year we set aside the Sunday after Easter to parade and gyrate in costumes half-naked on the streets of Kingston or in Mas Camps in the name of carnival, yet when our students follow the lead we have set there is a public outcry.
Were the boys treated in a different manner than the girls for their involvement? In most of the discourse to date there has been a subtle tap of the wrist for the boys' behaviour in the video. What message is being sent, particularly, what message are we sending to our youngsters.
A number of individuals have been clamouring for the school to suspend or even expel the student, who apparently is the only one still attending school, for her involvement in the video in her uniform. I firmly believe the school involved went with the best option, given the circumstances including the fact that the video was done two years ago, of not suspending the student. One can only imagine the immense pressure she faces daily from her community, school and family and the negative impact this is having on her. This provides an ideal opportunity for State agencies involved in child care and protection to step in and offer some assistance. Yes, counselling should be provided, not only to the student involved, but I dare say the entire school population should be counselled since it appears that the event was not a singular instance.
We need to redouble our efforts as adults in this society and provide the necessary leadership and example that we wish to see our youngsters emulate, instead of sitting on the proverbial fence. Each one of us can and should mentor a child in an effort to bringing about the changes we wish to see in our society.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.