What kind of country do we want? So many of you have responded by telling me that a vital component of what we need is a country where there is opportunity for all to achieve their goals and ambitions.

My sense from your responses is that the great majority of us want to Level-Up rather than seek to pull down those who have succeeded in life – which is one way to achieve equal misery for all.

If we are to provide the opportunity for all our people, and in particular those who are born into disadvantaged circumstances, it is essential that we create improved educational opportunities.

Amazingly by the time our children are eleven years old we condemn them, through the SEA, to choices which will sentence them to a bleak and miserable future.

In 2018 the then Minister of Education stated that the failure of significant numbers of our youth to graduate from high school is as a result of “socio-economic challenges, poverty, the lack of a strong family structure and economic challenges”. The consequences of these failures are rampant criminality driven by gangs and a life in which they are condemned to underemployment and poverty.

We are doomed to keep repeating these dismal results, unless we revolutionize our education system and curriculum – tinkering with the education system will not work.

This is particularly relevant given the impact of the information revolution and the increasing pace of the obsolescence of knowledge. Today our youth must become resilient and be steeped in the virtues of self-esteem, emotional intelligence and critical thinking in a setting where our children ‘Learn to Learn’.

Today I want to start at the very beginning – how our infants benefit or suffer from their early childhood development. The studies emerging from the Universities of Stanford, Chicago and Harvard point to the toxic environment in which many infants from disadvantaged and impoverished communities grow up as the core reason why so many young people slip through the cracks. The studies from these Universities conclude that the impact of these conditions results in damage to the pre-frontal cortex of infants from birth to 3 years as pointed out by Paul Tough in his seminal work “How Children Succeed”.

While there will always be exceptions, as reflected by the instances in which youth growing up in this environment have excelled, a large percentage of such children are unable to absorb any learning by the time they attend Primary School and therefore have a strong propensity to join gangs leading to a life of crime by the time they “graduate” from Primary School.

To reverse this disastrous state of affairs it is vital that we introduce in oppressed and disadvantaged communities, a strong focus on nursery and pre-schools.

We should encourage appropriate NGO’s and Religious Bodies, with financial support from the State, to provide the love, caring nurturing and bonding experience for this age group and to develop parenting and family life programs for at risk families.

Infants who grow up in such a caring environment have a huge advantage over their peers who have not had the benefit of such enabling and stimulating opportunities.

It is a holistic education system beginning with infancy which will lay the groundwork for transformation of the education of our children and ultimately the opportunities to Level-Up. In that way they can take advantage of the opportunities to achieve their ambitions and goals. It is this caring and creative environment which will set the groundwork for an entrepreneurial society, which is vital for our Nation to flourish and prosper.

This represents a win-win situation for all.

No longer can we afford to have our youth, who represent the future of our Country, to languish – condemned to a life of misery.

A story might help to reveal the enormity of the opportunities which lay before us. In 2014 I was fortunate to meet in the Parliament with Ann-Margaret, the daughter of A.N.R. Robinson, on the occasion of his State Funeral. Ann was a schoolteacher and taught in some of our impoverished and disadvantaged communities.

She related to me how at one point her School invited a software developer to come and teach programming to the students. Amazingly the students who turned out to be the most proficient at programming were the students who were considered ‘drop-outs’ from the school despite their physical presence.

Imagine the colossal failure of our education system in permitting students with great potential, to slip through the cracks of an education system which has no relevance for them.

When will we wake up and begin the needed revolution in our education system? Are we really content with the substantial numbers of students who are failed by the education system? Do we really like it so?

I look forward to hearing your views in our continuing conversation in this forum.

Timothy Hamel-Smith