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Raffique Shah


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Lost generations amidst free education

By Raffique Shah
July 12, 2017

And we wonder why, in this land of plenty, we are seeing increasing numbers of young delinquents who invariably, in their middle to latter years, become dependent on the State for all their needs and much of their wants, some of them turning to crime as a rewarding enterprise that is the safest route to garnering, maybe amassing, wealth, faring better than their contemporaries who burnt the proverbial midnight oil, who sacrificed and struggled to earn an education they believed would equip them for life.

Two thousand of the 18,000 12 year-olds who sat the SEA examination scored marks so low-below 30 percent-they may have difficulty reading or writing their names, Education Minister Anthony Garcia revealed last week. What he did not say was how many more scored below 50 percent, maybe another 3,000, who will more than likely drop out of secondary school, unable to cope with the level of studies required to take them to success in the CSEC exams, which would barely qualify them for the lowest jobs in shops and fast-food outlets.

We can assume that to these 5,000 junior dropouts we can add another 2,000 who will abandon the education system before reaching CAPE level studies. So approximately 7,000 children between ages 12 and 18 join the ranks of those who are going nowhere, a lost generation, on an annual basis. Multiply that by 17 years, if we use the millennium as a marker, and we have a whopping 119,000 young, strong persons, ages 12 to 30, somewhere out there, surviving by one means or other, sponging off the State, or preying on their contemporaries who opted to study hard and work hard, or on older citizens who are their parents' or grandparents' ages.

Oh, they will all have smart phones, whether they bought or stole them, and topping up these extensions of their anatomies takes priority over eating. In the latter regard, by fair or foul means, they will find money to fill their bellies with junk food bought from the ever-expanding franchises that dish out death in daily doses that take 20-to-30 years to manifest itself in hypertension, diabetes or some such lifestyle disease.

The dropouts become prolific baby-making-machines, because apart from idling on the blocks, they have nothing better to do-so why not have sex, damn the consequences. Sexually transmitted disease? There are public health care facilities to deal with that. In any case, how long do they expect to live for: 30 is old in that netherworld.

Children? No problem: "de Govament" or some stupid non-Government organisation staffed by bleeding=hearts will take care of them. Housing? Build a squat from stolen materials on State or private lands, and nobody can move we. If they try to, we'll run to whichever politician is in opposition and he or she will scream bloody murder, summon some human rights lawyer who will take our shack issue all the way to the Privy Council.

Okay, I am being facetious in treating with a very serious issue-our education system, the tens of thousands of children who plunge to their learning-deaths through the cracks, and end up living in misery, a fate-by-choice (mostly) that invariably impact the wider citizenry.

I'm not suggesting the system is anywhere close to perfect. But for all its weaknesses, it's one of few in the world that offers free tuition from pre-school to tertiary-level institutions, at great cost to taxpayers. If anything, I think there is too much freeness.

It can be said that every student who applied himself/herself and grabbed the opportunities on offer, benefitted immensely. I read recently that the medical faculty of The UWI has produced doctors in such numbers there are insufficient internship places in the hospitals to cater for them. Other graduates are having difficulty finding jobs in their respective fields, and technicians face an energy sector that is not hiring.

So, at a time when we have a surfeit of tertiary-level graduates, we also have thousands of children who cannot get past primary-level education, which is unbelievable in this day and age when opportunities to acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills abound. At the very least, everyone 50 years and younger should have a full secondary school education.

I paint a rather grim picture of the netherworld of dropouts from the system, but I assure you it's not abstract art. It's real. It exists not only in the ghettos and depressed communities, but also where I live and other districts I know well. I should add that this world of warped values spans the race-spectrum.

And always, the parents of the dropouts must shoulder most of the blame, just as those of students who excel share the glory.

Time was when it took a village to raise a child. That village hardly exists today, which is why families must care for their own, ensure that the children are educated, that they do not become another lost generation.

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