Election Day

“We are ready,” said a spokesman for the Police High Command. If you have been following the news in Jamaica for the past two months, then you know that today, December 29th, is election day. When I arrived in Jamaica in late June Bruce Golding was Prime Minister. A few months later he stepped aside and an interim Prime Minister, Honourable Andrew Holness, was elected. Holness is the leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Portia Simpson-Miller is the leader of the opposition party, the People’s National Party (PNP).

Historically, elections in Jamaica have become violent. This year there have been fatal shootings at meetings of the JLP and PNP. It’s difficult for me to read the pulse of Port Antonio. Port Antonio is statistically the safest parish in Jamaica. Although there have been a handful of rallies since November, there have been no reported acts of violence.

At any rate, the police will be out in full force throughout Jamaica. As for the Peace Corps’s safety policy on election day, volunteers are expected to avoid all election-related activities. In addition, if a volunteer needs to take public transportation to get to their workplace, then they are required to stay home. If a volunteer can walk to work, they are permitted to go. I walk to work. It is about a .75 mile walk for me. I expect to pass some polling sites along the way and of course, if it feels dangerous to continue I will return home.

This has been an interesting time to be in Jamaica. In August 2012, Jamaica will celebrate its 50th year of independence from the British. Arguably, Jamaica has made developmental headway in some areas and is woefully lacking in others. What will be interesting to see is if the current Prime Minister is re-elected. Prior to being elected Prime Minister, he was a Member of Parliament serving in the Ministry of Education.

Education, in my opinion, is one of the areas that is woefully lacking in Jamaica. First, there are not enough schools to support the number of children attending them. In my town, one of the local high schools is on a shift system. Half of the kids go to school in the morning, from about 8:00 – 12:00. The second shift goes from 1:00 – 5:00. It seems obvious that the children are being educationally short-changed. When I think back to when I was in high school, I can’t imagine which subjects would have been cut out to accommodate a shortened school day. Here, classes like P.E., art, and music are virtually non-existent. But what are the other classes that get cut out of the school curriculum? How much time is spent on English? How much time is spent on math? Clearly not enough if you look at the country’s literacy and numeracy performance rates.

In addition to not having enough schools, many, if not most of the schools, are not built in ways that are conducive to learning. The classrooms are not separate, often times nothing separating one class from the next, and the noise level poses a challenge to learning, particularly for children with learning disabilities.

Second, there is not a public bus system to transport the children to school. This results in large numbers of children not going to school simply because their families cannot afford the taxi fare.

Third, based on research I did on the Port Antonio Developmental Area, about 50% of the teachers do not have a college education. In many cases, the teachers themselves are functionally illiterate.

And, to add insult to injury, there are a few times in a child’s school career when they have to take exams to determine their suitability to advance to the next level of education, as well as which schools they can attend. So, to recap, put children in classrooms that aren’t conducive to learning, make attending school cost-prohibitive for poor families, staff the schools with teachers who aren’t educated, and then, administer tests to determine if a child has what it takes to continue his or her education and where they can go, and what do you get? A recipe for failure.

I could go on but you get my point. If you haven’t picked up on it, I am very frustrated with Jamaica’s education system and hope that whichever party wins the election, that they make educating Jamaica’s children a priority.

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