Monday, 27 January 2014

Reading Today

Reading has been on the decline in the Jamaican society and in particularly in many of the nation’s schools for quite a while. We live in a world and indeed a society where cultural norms are changing almost daily. As the technology develops more and more of our students are acquiring the latest gadgets and in the process leaving little or no time for recreational reading. Many of our students and adults alike have what is obviously an obsession with listening to music mainly of a specific genre. It has become a rarity to see a student or adult reading a novel and or text in our public spaces. The declining rate in literacy is more pronounced at the secondary level of the education system. This fall in reading level can be attributed to among other factors the non existence of a standardized national literacy test at the secondary level of the education system.
What is required is a monumental and radical shift by the nation’s policy makers to encourage more of our students to read.  We need to examine the possibility of including a Grade Seven Literacy Test (GSLT) and or a Grade Eight Literacy Test (GELT) in the national curriculum. This will provide the impetus and motive all stakeholders to do more in improving the literacy scores of our students.
There is an urgent need to for us constantly access and monitor our students. Additionally, we need to develop policies that emerge from empirical data to improve the educational outcome of our students and also the education system.
In establishing a national literacy test at the secondary level we would be able to track the progress or lack thereof of each student. The fact that each student already has a profile by the time he/she reaches the secondary level would make this process easier. This would make it quite easy to make a comparison of the student’s score on their Grade Four Literacy Test; this score could then be compared to the scores attained in later literacy tests done by each student. Appropriate remedial work could then be done to address the needs of specific students. Our literacy specialists would benefit greatly since they would have additional knowledge to carry out their mandate as they work with their students.   
It is foolhardy to think that an increase in literacy specialists is tantamount to improving reading levels. We need an infusion of all subject teachers to do more reading in the content area. We also need to reduce the student/teacher ratio in our schools to manageable levels where teachers can be more effective in working with challenged students. For example, having one reading specialist to a class of thirty (30) students will not achieve the desired outcome of improving reading levels of all pupils. Each student requires individual attention.
The major obstacle to Jamaica’s progress and development is the breakdown of family life. There are too many splintered families in the society. Yes the times are challenging and the resources of the State are limited, however, there is an urgent need for educators to do more. We need to redouble our efforts to incorporate the use of authentic forms of literacy, such as, close reading, analysis, discussion and writing to improve the reading outcome of our students. While we are unable to slow the pace of the ever changing technology, we must explore all possibilities to raise the levels of literacy in our nation’s schools.

Splintered Family is a term coined by the author Wayne Campbell to describe a family type in which the head of the family changes rapidly to coincide with the prevailing circumstances of that family. It is the absence of any sustained and responsible adult supervision in a family structure. For example, an older sibbling is head of the household at a given moment, the next moment an aunt/uncle or even an older friend of the family becomes the provisional head of the household. The term also refers to a family type in which there is no obvious head of the household.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Matters of the Environment

Global warming and climate change should be everybody,s business. The sheer destruction, death and subsequent displacement of  hundreds of St Vicentians by flood rain on Christmas Eve of 2013 is not only heart rending but should spur the region to pay more attention to matters of the envirnonment. We all saw the images of the aftermath of super-typhoon Haiyan which devastated parts of the Philippines in 2013. These two events should serve as a catalyst for the Caribbean to move ahead with a sense of urgency to find lasting and meaningful solutions to issues of global warming and climate change.  Extreme, unusual and irregular weather patterns have been attributed to global warming and the Caribbean as a region is not immune to such occurrences. Despite not having a hurricane for 2013 Atlantic hurricane season Jamaica was unusually hot for the better part of last year. The massive typhoon which hit the Philippines was one of the most powerful ever on record, with winds exceeding 200 kilometers per hours. Some estimates have placed some 10,000 deaths in one village alone with the figure expected to increase as government officials’ access difficult terrain.
It is rather ironic that the typhoon hit the Philippines on the same day that the United Nations began talks on Climate change and its Impact in Warsaw, Poland. The United Nations has a target of limiting global average warming to two degree Celsius over pre-industrial Revolution levels and this can be achieved by curbing emissions of invisible, heat trapping gases from burning fossils fuels which sadly is the backbone of the world’s energy supply. However, as emerging world powers seeks cheaper and less sufficient energy sources such as coal in order to bolster their economy it is clear than an collaborative is required from both industrialized societies as well as small and emerging economies. Jamaica is currently midway through implementing phase 2 of a US$25 million Strategic Programme for Climate Resilience (SPCR). This initiative seeks to boost government led efforts to strength Jamaica’s ability to withstand the damaging effort of climate-related occurrences such as a hurricane. Successive governments have not always paid sufficient attention to matters of the environment and as a consequence the devastating effects have been felt by many who have lost loved ones as well as property due to government lax building codes and their inability or refusal to monitor greedy developers who in the past have been allowed to construct homes in well- known river beds and sell these to unsuspecting and desperate clients. The heart rending images appearing on television and other social media after the aftermath of super typhoon and the flood rains in St.Vincent should serve as a reminder of the cost of inaction on climate change. Many lives have been uprooted by this act of nature; adults and children alike are hungry and homeless. One can clearly see a sense of hopelessness and despair on the faces of the survivors as they search for food and meaning in the rubbles around them. We all need to be reminded that any disturbance to nature and the environment will have catastrophic consequences and that the popular and unwise decisions we take today usually come back to negatively haunt the next generation. 
Jamaica has suffered from the devastating impact of hurricanes. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan killed 17 Jamaicans and left damages totaling some US$360 Million. Four years later in 2008 Hurricane Gustav impacted Jamaica with a recovery bill of some US$210 Million. Yet some of our people continue to destroy the environment by cutting down trees and as well as by building their homes on the banks of gullies. We must continue our public relations campaigns to inform those among us who do not know any better of the negative and long lasting implications of tampering with nature and the environment. Let us be reminded that there can be no sustainable development without first protecting the environment to think or do otherwise is retrograde.  
Let us remember our brothers and sisters in the Philippines and in the Caribbean as they rebuild their lives and move forward. From the initial assessments done this effort will take millions of dollars of aid and many years to complete the recovery process.
While some of us might still be in doubt as to whether or not climate change caused the super cyclone in the Philippines let us err on the side of caution and learn from others and do what we can do to safeguard ourselves in this ever changing world. Is there a coordinated regional plan to deal with matters such as hurricanes, earthquake and massive flood rains? Is there a National Policy on Climate Change and Global Warming?
If no, the time is far overdue for such policies. We must include in such a policy a focus on coastal towns, for example, Portmore, areas of St. Thomas, Portland and St. Mary. Are we prepared in Jamaica for the consequences of a storm surge should a hurricane trigger such an occurrence?  The time is now for us to move swiftly and decisively in order to seriously address the issues of climate change and global warming even amidst our economic constraints.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Green Not Just For Go

In 2013 three hundred and five (305) Jamaicans died from fatal traffic accidents. Of that number eight nine (89) were pedestrians. In addition to the tremendous loss suffered by family and friends as a result of the untimely passing of their loved ones the continued carnage on our roads also rakes up millions of dollars in hospitalization and follow up care of those individuals who were injured in traffic accidents as well. We cannot continue along this path of recklessness on our roads where on average we lose 300 lives yearly.
Our pedestrians are at particular risks on our roads. A pedestrian crossing is any location where the pedestrian leaves the sidewalk and enters the roadway to cross. We are now at a point in our nation’s history where we need to be more creative in using the available mechanisms we have in place to decrease traffic deaths. One such road safety system is our pedestrian crossing. I am proposing a change in colour of our pedestrian crossing from the predominantly white to a more eye- catching colour. We need to move with the times and as such we should be using fluorescent neon colours. Colours such as blue or green would definitely raise the visibility of our pedestrian crossings and in so doing save lives in the process. There have been too many instances where motorists have been driving along only to suddenly come upon a pedestrian crossing.  There is also a need for us to revisit the correct use of pedestrian crossing, it is very clear that too many of our road users are clueless where this is concern.
Historically we have not done a good job at maintaining our physical structures and this fact is borne out in the many faded pedestrian crossings island wide.  Road safety should be everyone’s business and as such every effort should be made to reduce deaths on our roads.
Each life is precious and if one life can be saved from implementing any measure to preserve life then it’s worth the investment of state resources as well as the time and effort.  We all have a responsibility to work towards reducing road fatalities.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Allergies Is Serious Business

It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Avoiding contact with any chemical or substance that could possible trigger an allergic reaction is always the best possible option available to those who suffer from allergies. However, there are some individuals who are unable to identify the allergens to which they should stay away from and as a result they continue to come in contact with such allergens.
Anyone who had an allergic reaction knows the severe discomfort that accompanies this medical condition requiring multiple visits to the hospital and time off from work and or school. It’s a time of sheer frustration and distress.
In North America (the United States of America and Canada) individuals who are at risk from developing an allergic reaction have at their disposal the choice of getting a prefilled automatic injection (EpiPen) containing epinephrine, a chemical that narrows blood vessels and opens airway sin the lungs. These effects can reverse severe skin itching, hives and other symptoms of an allergic reaction.
However, patients in Jamaica are not so fortunate since the local medical fraternity for whatever the reason/s does not see this as a priority. Having access to an EpiPen can be a necessary life saving tool.
Individuals who have had a history of allergies or asthma, or people who have had severe allergic reactions may be at risk for anaphylactic shock.  Anaphylaxis is a sudden and potentially fatal allergic reaction in somebody sensitive to a substance characterized by a drop in blood pressure, difficulty breathing, itching and swelling. Having access to an EpiPen is certainly a first line response in a case of emergency until that individual get to the hospital for further treatment, however, it appears that in Jamaica this is not viewed as such.
In Canada for example one can purchase an EpiPen without a prescription.
Why is it that in Jamaica EpiPen are not available for those individuals who suffer from allergic reactions?  What is the position of the Ministry of Health regarding having EpiPen available locally?
With so few doctors trained as allergists in Jamaica maybe the time has come for the local medical fraternity to examine the possibility of allowing EpiPens to be available to patients who suffer from severe form of allergies.