Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jamaica is suffering from a poverty of ideas ...and already it appears as if the new administration is ready to fall into the same ditch of intellectual and creative stagnation that characterised previous governments

The poverty of ideas and action


With Betty Ann Blaine
Betty Ann Blaine

Dear Reader,

For a country with some of the most brilliant minds one could find anywhere, I continue to be perplexed by the deficit of ideas, and worse yet, the lack of courage and conviction of those who are educated to challenge the status quo.

The recently concluded election campaign was an insult to the intelligence of any thinking person. It wasn't just that the platforms boiled down to a "tracing" match between the two main rivals about who was more corrupt than whom, it was also the complete lack of intellectual rigour commensurate with a society that has such a large class of educated people and a wide assortment of schools, colleges and universities.

The questions that I keep asking are, "How can a country with such a high concentration of intellectual capital be teetering on the verge of collapse? What is it that accounts for the gap between the "brilliance" on the one hand, and the "broken" on the other?

I would hope that these are questions occupying the minds of the leaders of our major educational institutions, and if they aren't, then clearly something is radically wrong and they ought to "wake up and smell the coffee". As far as I am concerned, if the country's tertiary institutions are not producing transformational leaders, then they might as well call it a day and go into some other kind of business.

The point is that if the society is failing, then so are our institutions of higher learning, and those who continue to live in the ivory towers of academia had better begin paying attention to what is happening on the outside of those walls.

What is even more perplexing is the fact that we now have living examples all over the world to emulate and encourage us to action. Globally, 2011 can be best described as "the year of people power". In the most striking and spontaneous fashion, people all over the globe took to the streets last year. To my mind, the Arab Spring best epitomises the dynamism of the movements in the Middle East, followed by the "Occupy Wall Street Movement" in the United States and across the world. Of note was the huge population of young people positioned at the forefront of the various uprisings and direct action campaigns.

So what is the difference between those young people and ours? What exactly is going on at our colleges and universities that is inhibiting youth activism? The Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying, "If you see something wrong with the world, change it with your hands". That powerful statement should be inscribed on the walls of our educational institutions and embedded in the policies, programmes and culture of all those places where learning takes place.

One of the criticisms I have of the new People's National Party (PNP) administration is its perpetuation of political "parochialism". So far, every major appointment made is based entirely on loyalty to party, and while we understand that rewarding party faithful is germane to politics as we know it, it's a pity that the PNP doesn't appreciate the need to engage some of those in the society who are independent, progressive thinkers into its administration. The example set by US President Barack Obama in the way he embraced and invited his Republican rival into his Cabinet, was not only exemplary, it was smart. Obama made it clear that it was going to be country over party and he reached out for the best man to do the job.

And there are numerous scholars and experts with excellent ideas for reconstructing the Jamaican society and economy. Not only is there a repository of knowledge and experience waiting to be the tapped, but the capacity of those to network with colleagues and contemporaries outside of Jamaican is clearly underestimated.

Jamaica is suffering from a poverty of ideas, and already it appears as if the new administration is ready to fall into the same ditch of intellectual and creative stagnation that characterised previous governments.

Among the critical areas of national development is education reform and there are experts both inside and outside of Jamaica with a lot to offer. Last Thursday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a public lecture hosted by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at the University of the West Indies. The main presentation was delivered by Professor Pedro Noguera of New York University, a leading expert in education and education transformation. Addressing the topic, "Education for Social and Economic Development: toward a more equitable and Just Jamaica in the 21st century", Professor Noguera, whose mother, interestingly, is Jamaican, skilfully outlined the problems and the solutions for education transformation. The ideas were fresh, dynamic and workable, and the only thing that I regretted was that the new minister of education was not present. It was definitely information and ideas for policy makers and implementers.

It is high time we narrow the huge gap between the intellectual prowess on the one hand and the realities of day-to-day living on the other, not only for the stimulation and sustenance of progressive and enlightened thought, but also for the advancement of the common man.

With love,

January 24, 2012