Wednesday, September 24, 2014

For a cleaner, more productive Jamaica

Jamaica Observer column by Jean Lowrie-Chin | 22 SEPT 2014

A street in Barbados ..from
I have to admit I felt a bit envious of those clean streets when I visited Barbados last year.  At frequent intervals, we saw signs warning against littering, and the hefty fines for doing so.  “They watch you, and they catch you,” explained our taxi driver. “They don’t joke!” 
Well, the joke seems to be on us here in Jamaica, where we are seeing not a beautification, but a “buttu-fication” of our surroundings.  In a country where our leaders seems to lurch from one political campaign to the next, the basic business of keeping our country clean gets overlooked.  Now as the ChikV disease claims multiple victims each day, we hear an appeal going up for a clean-up day to destroy mosquito breeding sites.  Does this mean that with 216 parish councillors, this is not an ongoing activity?  
Jamaicans do their part on ICCD
However, we cannot blame the garbage issue solely on the authorities.  We all have a responsibility to keep our environment clean.  Last Saturday on International Coastal Clean-Up Day (ICCD), we saw photographs online of areas inundated with plastic bottles and other types of garbage. 
I recall being at a picnic in Maryland with my friend Joy Rodgers and seeing her send her children to pick up litter.  Then she sent them to an area where we had not been sitting, to pick up more.  She explained to me:  “I want my children to leave places even cleaner than they found them.”  What an important lesson, as her children were being reminded of their responsibility to this planet whose good health will determine ours – physically and economically.
Plastics in particular, are a serious threat to the livelihood of our fisherfolk.  A Jamaica Observer report quotes Nelson Andrade Colmenares of UNEP's Caribbean Environment Programme: "the impact of plastics is not only disastrous but expensive, generating US$13 billion in annual damages to marine ecosystems.”
We are grateful that the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) was able to coordinate such a massive operation for ICCD, engaging 9,000 volunteers in 130 locations islandwide.  Now it is up to the leaders in our communities, to follow up with a maintenance programme so all of this good work is not in vain.
A Jamaican school - Gleaner photo
“Mediocre” schools
Are we racing or slouching towards “Vision 2030”?  We have to ask, having heard that, in a presentation to the House of Parliament last Wednesday, the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) is not seeing any improvement in our school system, based on a recent study of 129 schools in its latest assessment.
Senior Staff Reporter Balford Henry quoted the analysis: "With over 800 schools inspected, it is clear, based on the data that these trends are not likely to change, when the entire baseline study of 954 schools is completed. And this means that we have sufficient evidence to show that the level of performance system-wide is, for the most part, mediocre -- with the primary schools lagging behind the secondary ones."
Children making good progress in Digicel Foundation/USAID/Min of Education Enrichment programme
In the meanwhile, I know that there are dedicated public servants at the Ministry of Education who have been working assiduously to have our schools produce better results, beginning with that all important foundation of early childhood education. The USAID has also joined forces with the Ministry and the Digicel Foundation to roll out a Schools Enrichment Programme focusing on literacy, numeracy and the sciences.
We know that there are still exceptional teachers in the system, but they need to ensure that the less dedicated do not give the profession a bad name. We have to support the Minister in his appeal that teachers take their leave outside of the 190 days on which teaching takes place.  We were surprised to hear that 95 percent of teachers’ applications for leave took place during the time of instruction.  If we do the math, our teachers have another 175 days in which to apply for leave!  For those of us who are limited to two- or three-week vacations, we are dismayed that this is not thought to be a reasonable request from the Minister.
The Ministry of Education certainly has some huge challenges, but our teachers should know that with technology racing ahead, those who will not step up to give better than mediocre results may be replaced by the online virtual classrooms that are already being successfully used in other countries.
graphic from
Flexi-time and Family Time
We understand that the debate in the House on the proposed Employment (Flexi Work Arrangements) (Miscellaneous Provisions Act), 2014 will take place tomorrow.  This is a burning issue for some churches which observe the Sabbath as a day when no work should take place. 
The proposal is that Sundays and Public Holidays be treated as regular workdays, and business operators determine their own opening and closing hours. The act will however stipulate that a workday be capped at 12 hours and that a work week should not exceed 40 hours. 
Bear in mind though, that as long as one is dedicated and efficient, generally employers will show respect for religious and family obligations.  One plant manager explained that he found workers who were Seventh Day Adventists to be the most diligent and honest.  Their work ethic inspired their managers to re-arrange schedules so they could be allowed to observe their Sabbath. Change is difficult but necessary, as we try to boost our country’s low rate of productivity.
Scammers disgracing Jamaica
The latest news that a popular disc jockey, Deon-ville O’Hara aka ZJ Wah Wa will be pleading guilty this week in North Dakota, to charges of  conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and money laundering, is disturbing.  Apparently, he decided to change his ‘not guilty’ plea after his four collaborators admitted to the charges. 
A total of 16 Jamaicans have been arrested as part of that ring, and we wonder how these crimes could have been allowed to spread so far and wide, casting many United States seniors into poverty.  In a Jamaica where everybody knows everybody’s business, this widespread criminal behaviour reeks of greed. 
Leaders in all sectors must collaborate in restoring stronger moral values in our people – we have to find out how these well-educated scammers lost their way, so we can help others to make better life choices.

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