17 May 2009

Stealing from our Children

John Maxwell

I was a reporter in parliament half a century ago when Norman Manley shepherded through the House, the bill to create the College of Arts, Science and Technology. CAST, now the University of Technology (UTECH) was the intellectual godchild of people as various as Manley, members of the Legislative Council including my own father, and before them Marcus Garvey and others who had for years agitated for a University of Jamaica. The university was a plank in the first PNP Plan for Progress in 1958, At the time the CAST was being debated, the Opposition JLP was waging a campaign which proclaimed: "Saltfish better than education."

The Opposition opposed among other things, the government's secondary scholarship programme allowing thousands of poor children to go to places like Jamaica College and Munro. The money would have better been spent on food subsidies, they said. A few years later the same arguments were used to oppose the building of the National Stadium. This opposition was given a macabre twist on the first Independence Day when one Edward Seaga, then minister in charge of the celebrations, attempted to eject Norman Manley from the Royal Box in the Stadium he built.

"What is that man doing here?" he shouted, only to be slapped down by the new Prime Minister, Alexander Bustamante, who had a somewhat clearer idea of Jamaican history than Seaga.
With all this in the background you may imagine my shock at the attempt this week by the UTECH to capture the Trelawny stadium for its campus. 'If we don't get the stadium, UTECH whines piteously, you will be denying 5,000 children the chance to get an MBA or some other meaningless decoration stamped out by the academic mill.
I don't mean that degrees are meaningless, simply that bean-counters in academe have no more right to design the future of this country than anyone else. We can be sure of one thing: of the 5,000 new graduates few if any will have degrees in agronomy, nursing, or any of the practical skills we most urgently require for real development rather than the construction of elegant Ponzi schemes and other scams.



Rooted in Community


When I first settled in Kingston as a new boy at Calabar High School, schools of all kinds were well rooted in their communities. Many Calabar boys came from Jones Town, now destroyed by politically manipulated gangsterism. Wolmers and the North Street schools, St George's and Kingston College, recruited many of their scholars from places like Kingston Gardens and Allman Town.

What was very striking in those days was the fact that almost every school including the elementary – primary and/or all age – had its own playing field and most offered a variety of outdoor activities, from Scouting and the Cadet Corps to the more usual cricket and football. Calabar and JC offered swimming.

Calabar and Jamaica College both boasted two full-sized sports fields. Between the `jewish cemetery on Slipe `Pen Road and Torrington bridge there were four big playing fields, Chetolah Park,(school) and facilities owned by the Jamaica Public Service Company, the Jamaica Fruit and Shipping Company and another whose name escapes me. Off South Camp Road there were Issa Park and Hannasons among others while Wembley, Lucas and Kensington Clubs served Eastern Kingston. And there were others, all over.

When boys left school many went straight into the world of sporting clubs, playing Minor Cup and Senior Cup cricket or Senior League football. There was a staggering variety of sporting competitions for all ages, inter-schools, inter- and infra-parish and for those who couldn't manage those there was Business House football and cricket.
We were a very fit nation, even if many were under-nourished, and given the leadership we had, we thought we would soon fix that.
Instead, after independence the idea gained impetus that property speculation was the essence of development.

Even the schools got into the act. KC captured the Melbourne Cricket Club grounds and many of the rest went either for campuses or for housing development. Green Kingston became increasingly brown and the peace of the city disappeared increasingly into purpose-built ghettoes, armed to the teeth and ready to rumble.

Jamaican development has tended to be based more and more on the principle that schoolchildren don't vote, and while statistics attest to the building of more schools, these schools have become incubators for ghetto warriors, soulless deep-litter chicken coops with the minimum space and time for play.

In the late 70s, when the Cavaliers filter plant (at Cross Roads) fell into disuse, as chairman of the NRCA I proposed to Kingston's Mayor George Mason that one or two of the filter beds be transformed into municipal swimming pools, partly to take the place of the no longer sanitary beaches in Kingston Harbour and the broken down Bournemouth Baths. The KSAC would have none of it. Seven Olympic Games later they are still idle, and boys and girls who might have been world famous are busy firing guns at each other or pushing up buttercups in May Pen cemetery.

Counterbalance for justice

The Chinese donation of the new stadium in Trelawny was rightly welcomed by many as an essential sports centre in the west, counterbalancing the admittedly inadequate facilities in Kingston, and especially useful for the development of athletics and other sports for the deprived schools west of Ocho Rios and Old Harbour. Jarrett Park has always been totally inadequate and never more plainly so than when there is more than one major sporting activity in progress in Jamaica at any time.

Norman Manley thought that education, encompassing sports and music as well as book learning was the essential factor in civilisation. As an athlete and sportsman himself, he could never have conceived of sports, music or academic learning being in competition.
I believe, as the true father of UTECH, Norman Manley would have been outraged at the suggestion that his foundation should be used to destroy a nascent engine of Jamaica's sporting development. To justify the cuckoo's nest initiative we use the argument used against Hope Gardens: it isn't being properly used!

Whose fault is that?

Our children are to be punished for our delinquencies.

That is real Jamaican justice!


What outrages me is that the UTECH initiative is simply the latest bureaucratic assault on the Jamaican people's rights to recreational facilities – by institutions who can see development only in terms of balance sheets. The wholesale assault on the beaches of Jamaica by the Urban Development Corporation and by private interests is a similar major act of treason against the public interest. The assaults on Hope Gardens and Long Mountain are elements of the same parasitic mind-set.
It may be useful to remember that while we need playing fields and organised facilities for recreation, rebellions and insurrections create their own open spaces and do not require nor demand planning permission.
Copyright©2009John Maxwell

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