I cannot stomach how such a surplus of our home-grown athletic and academic talents are not able to manifest them into professionalism based on the potential they have demonstrated. It has been a decade-old issue Jamaica has had to wrestle with. Such a grim beast’s presence in societal development has been addressed and even acknowledged, but unfortunately not acted upon in a manner which makes it reversible. Take a second to imagine an academic almanac comprising of 1500 students, approximately 750 student athletes who have excelled at the high-school level and of that 750, only 50 matriculating through the ranks of adolescent excellence on their way up to professionalism. These figures are all estimates and my sample size is minute considering the number of athletically active schools in Jamaica. But ‘My Word,’ what a travesty?
A 2007 analysis of Jamaican candidates’ performance in the Caribbean Examination Council’s CSEC revealed only nine schools with 90 percent or more of their students attaining four subjects including English and Mathematics, while eight institutions recorded between 80 and 90 percent of their graduating population doing the same. These figures have fluctuated since then and aided in the matriculative retardation of student athletes due to several key contributing factors which encompasses the following: a lack of financial aid, a desire to pursue academic heights as opposed to athletics & (vice versa), and an inability to move on to the next level of academic or athletic prestige. One such example is Dr. Maria Brown, Immaculate Conception High alumnus. A champion high-school sprinter in her day, the University of Michigan graduate recorded 11.43 seconds over 100 metres in her sophmore year, an NCAA provisional qualifying time. She rounded off her sophmore sprint success by recording 23.76 seconds over 200 metres making that two personal records and participated in the record breaking/record-lapping University of Michigan 4×100 metre relay team. In trailblazing those times, she totally outclassed her field of competitors twice by at least 1 second which approximates to 10 metres. Those times were recorded in May of 1998. In March of 1999, during ISSA’s National Boy’s & Girl’s High School Athletics Championship, Aleen Bailey of Vere Technical blazed to 11.48 seconds over 100 metres and 23.38 seconds in the 200 metre dash for Class 1. Bailey’s Class 2 schoolmate, Veronica Campbell, now Campbell-Brown, ran a staggering 11.65 seconds in the 100 metre to finish runner up to Melanie Walker who clocked 11.63 seconds. In the Class 2 200 metres, Walker again aced Campbell-Brown, this time by a greater margin. Melanie Walker stormed to 23.71 seconds and 2 tenths of a second later Veronica set 23.90 seconds. Novelene Williams-Mills, formerly from Ferncourt High finished 6th fortifying 25.13 seconds.
Presumably, Dr. Brown might have decided that a single injury could end her sprinting career whilst nothing could get in the way of her studies. Whether or not she had such sentiments, as a fine doctor of medicine, all who have monitored her track performances can agree that she would have made just as fine an athlete. Separately from on the track, we’ve had similar situations with swimmers, footballers, cricketers and athletes of other sporting disciplines at the InterCollegiate, NCAA & FISU level; too many to mention. Minister of Education, Hon. Rev. Ronald Thwaites, in 2014, urged school administrators of new secondary schools to include sixth forms in their extension plans. He stated that this will enable the rounded development of students whereas they will be able to align themselves with leadership roles and similar responsibilities enhancing their academic qualifications. The Reverend stated, “When you have the depth of teachers and students matriculating with sufficient subjects, keep them longer and build a maturing element in your school, at which time, they can grow into the fine specimens of young Jamaican men and women.” Later that year, in response to matriculating students experiencing financial constraints, Minister Thwaites said; “Students who have already matriculated have access to the Student Loan Bureau, they will be interviewed and considered for whatever loan they require.” He added that the loan application period had been extended and despite student delinquency the Bureau possessed enough funds to meet the demands of 14,648 applicants at a projected cost of $4.6 Billion JMD.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has outlined a mandate to rescue the potencies of Jamaica’s underachieving youth. She vocalized a programme devised to realise this vision called the Career Advancement Programme (CAP), emphasizing that students who leave the school system without marketable competencies will not be left behind, adding that the government will continue with second chance programmes. Mrs. Simpson-Miller explained that the CAP initiative provides for young people “training that will help them obtain a career for life, earn certification and find a job.” The current Prime Minister reminded her audience that while educational successes are celebrated, the administration acknowledges the existing challenges in the system and provides support to address them. Former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding has called on the country’s leaders to desist treating the nation’s most valuable assets, its people, as liabilities. In a Generation 2000 (G2K) address, he said that the focus should be on human development concerning how human potential can be converted into human capital. Golding proposed that graduates ought to pursue studies in areas of high demand, arguing that the economy cannot adapt itself to student matriculation, rather institutions should train students to efficiently meet market demands. Obviously, based on the forementioned facts, this vital ‘stun-gun’ has been acknowledged and steps have been implemented in an effort to ‘try’ to correct the problem.
I say try, not to undermine this government’s work or previous governments’ work in reversing the problem, but instead to highlight that enough is not being done; not even at an optimal level. Yes, we are aware that several academic and athletic talents have fallen victim to their own brilliance, as well as to negligence. What of the issue of our athletes and academics being absorbed into foreign opportunities which see Jamaica never gaining from the professionalism of those home-grown talents? These foreign-based Jamaicans have often complained of bad inter-personal relationships with their professional peers and superiors. Among reasons for leaving is also a lack in basic infrastructure and scarce opportunities in his/her desired field. We have even seen where national representatives have looked to establish professional relationships with foreign-based professionals in moving forward with their careers. It might even be safe to say that with the renouncing of Jamaican citizenship comes the announcing of the severing of all ties to one’s homeland and of a will in becoming a major stakeholder in nation building. My solution is to provide thorough personal development support systems, from the community onwards, for our athletes and academics consisting of rehabilitation, etiquette training, awareness to globalization, formal decorum and patriotic motivation, monitoring their progress right throughout. Not to single out the extraordinary performers, however their development should be treated as mandatory whether or not they are from families of capable financial backing. Those who have shown hints of potential brilliance ought to be made aware of their capabilities and guided into professionalism from natural potency. Credit and incentivisation are due where necessary, as we only have ourselves to blame when we lose out on our most invaluable natural resource “Out of Many, One People.”
Photo Credit: Gleaner Jamaica Gallery