Basil Jarrett | Teaching integrity
I like to consider myself a fairly well-educated person – both in terms of formal schooling and the informal type that you pick up from the university of hard knocks called life. When I got my six of seven Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate...
I like to consider myself a fairly well-educated person – both in terms of formal schooling and the informal type that you pick up from the university of hard knocks called life. When I got my six of seven Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects, I was elated, as it meant I could now go on to sixth form to do all of three A’ level subjects for the next two years.
Those two years and those subsequent exams later turned out to be the hardest exams I have ever sat…in my entire life. I would never wish that experience on anyone again. Decades later, those sleepless nights, the tension headaches and the cramped fingers still haunt me, so much so that whenever I hear the latest wonder kid being celebrated for having 20-plus CSEC subjects and a gazillion Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) subjects to go with it, my mind is just confounded. How on earth does someone take 20 subjects? I didn’t even know 20 subjects existed.
But once you have recovered and picked up your jaw from the floor, a deeper dive into these subjects and the high-school curriculum reveal that despite these brainiacs cleaning up every high-school academic award known to man, we still seem to be missing out on a vital component of formal education: that of values and attitudes. Specifically, values and attitudes that equip students with the knowledge, skills, manners, mindset and dispositions necessary to become informed, engaged, responsible Jamaican citizens.
A quick glance across the Jamaican landscape reveals that some of our most pressing social ills stem from corruption and crime, which can later be traced back to our very education and socialisation. As the family unit has degenerated and fractured over the years, many of the attitudes and beliefs which were handed down from generation to generation are slowly being lost. When those attitudes and core values disappear, government should rightly step in and plug those gaps. One of the ways I believe that this can be done is to reintroduce civics to the school curriculum as a formal, graded class, no less emphasised than the three Rs – reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.
Civics educates students about their rights as citizens, as well as their duties and responsibilities. In other words, practical knowledge. But civics can also be an important vehicle to instil the correct attitudes and values that we would like to see as a country. We need to take a back-to-basics approach to education, in order to fill some of these societal gaps that we currently have. A large part of our social and economic issues stem from a breakdown of certain moral values across society. Corruption is one such side effect of this, as we have now become an inherently corrupt nation that not only tolerates dishonesty and exploitation, but makes excuses for it as just another cost of doing business in Jamaica. People need to be able to immediately recognise and identify, for example, a conflict of interest or a situation of compromise. But based on the frequency of these breaches, it is clear that these aren’t as easily recognisable as one would’ve thought. In fact, sometimes it genuinely isn’t as clear-cut and straightforward, and only pops up after the fact.
And this is why I believe that we need to re-examine the idea of reintroducing civics to the high-school curriculum, possibly even earlier, in order to build back those core foundations of integrity, good governance and responsible citizenship as the building blocks of our society. Concepts such as being your brother’s keeper; caring for the weak and vulnerable; placing a higher value on doing the right thing, as opposed to the easy thing; and giving back to your community are crucial. So, too, are honesty, integrity, being of good character, and showing courtesy, kindness and respect for others. Children will also develop a greater appreciation for government, the law, the police, the court system, elections and voting. On the latter point, it may even ultimately solve the problem of our low electoral turnout, and possibly lead to greater patriotism and civic pride.
Now, some may say, well hold on a second here. Why are we burdening our schools with the additional weight of another academic requirement? Don’t we already have 20 subjects to keep our kids busy? What about the Church? Where are they in all of this?
Certainly, the Church has a role to play. But in light of recent events down in Montego Bay, perhaps they have their own set of problems to contend with right now.
While some elements of civics are sprinkled across the school curriculum in subjects such as social studies and history, civics ought not to be confused with these two disciplines. While social studies and history help to give students background knowledge and context for their current situation, civics is much narrower, emphasising the duties and responsibilities of good citizens.
If we could harness this latter potential, then we could truly start to see a change in some of our most pressing attitudinal and behavioural problems. It’s a long shot, given how far we’ve fallen, but certainly, what better place to start than in fundamental education.
Major Basil Jarrett is a communications strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Cole is a retired legal officer of the Jamaica Defence Force with over 27 years of service.