Preparing A People-Centric Generation — Part 1

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Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the USA

I have been indicating that 2018 is a turning point towards building the new Jamaica. In this new Jamaica the vision of the end product must be very clear. What is the vision? Does the vision in its expression satisfy the needs of all Jamaicans? Can Jamaicans of every walk of life see themselves, their hopes, dreams and aspirations being fulfilled in it? What will motivate them to work towards achieving our national vision at the various stages of their development?

I suggest that a comprehensive vision, broken down into palatable and achievable stages, should help our citizens relate to and engage in our national development.

How does the vision motivate children, youth, young adults and adults? Is it relevant to them? Does it include their needs and take into account their new-era differences, while keeping them anchored to a sure foundation? What is expected of them and what should each be doing to build the national vision?

These are questions that our current leadership in our public, private and pastoral sectors must ask!

Preparing the mind of the new generation

You “cannot put new wine in old wineskins”, it has been said. We cannot build a new-era Jamaica with old attitudes. By that I mean that there are some attitudes we have inherited from our colonial masters which we have refused to give up. While those attitudes were understandable because of their disposition toward us — we were expendable commodities to them — now that we are governing ourselves, it is absolutely stupid and nationally suicidal to keep them.

If we are to be really serious about building a new-era Jamaica and preparing a new generation to take the reigns of leadership from us, we cannot pass on this type of colonial and retrograde thinking. We must pass on new ways of thinking that show that we value each other, and this new thinking must be reflected in the way we develop our society.

At the HEART of it

The leadership of that wonderful institution launched by Edward Seaga is a great case in point of our anti-people-centric ideas and attitudes. Last week I appealed to those who serve our citizens for a more people-centric approach in areas such as infrastructure development. This very point was again highlighted in a discussion this week in which I learned, to great aggravation of soul, that the HEART Trust/NTA now demands that all who sign up must do so online. It is the only way to sign up. What a piece of preposterous nonsense! That is not people-centric thinking, but solely self-serving organisational convenience thinking.

Yes, Jamaica has made great advances in information technology use, and we boast an impressive rise from an insignificant Internet penetration of 2.3 per cent in the year 2000, to reportedly 53.6 per cent in 2014. That’s just 14 years! However, a great number of our citizens for which HEART was designed still do not have the kind of access, either to the Internet or the computing tools needed, to be able to sign up online.

It is one of the difficulties faced by the organisations that offer the HEART programmes — the target group for the programmes has too many obstacles to overcome, including challenges in filling out the application forms. Now they want them to also do so online. This is a definite hurdle for some of our youth. An unnecessary hurdle, I believe.

HEART, like the rest of the civil service, must always be acutely aware that the people do not exist for their comfort, ease or convenience. Rather, they exist for the people’s comfort and ease. Herein lies a fundamental problem in our society at various levels, and in different spheres: There is misunderstanding of the purpose of existence.

People do not exist to serve Government. Government exists to serve the people. If there were no people, there would be no need for Government. All those who serve exist in their roles only because of those whom they serve.

The fact is, the very people that need the service the most oftentimes neither have a computer nor easy and inexpensive Internet access.

I do not want to insult HEART by suggesting that the organisation is unaware of the percentage of individuals who have a computer in the home, but I’m going to say it: It’s approximately 35 percent. We are again planning for the few and imposing hardship on the many.

Purpose-driven thinking

This kind of anti-people-centric thinking is by no means confined to a few government and private sector agencies, as we pointed out last week. It is a broad-based way of thinking, dominating most aspects of our nation and forming a societal culture. I contend we must arrest it and rethink it with a view to change our national behaviour.

We cannot build the new Jamaica for greatness without a deliberate focus shift to a people-centric thinking. Personal or organisational objectives cannot take priority over people. It is like a man, husband and father, who says he is working hard to create wealth for the family, working 16-20 hours per day, seven days per week. By the time he creates the wealth, the family is destroyed and he is left wondering why.

Are you a political, civil service, civil society or pastoral leader or worker? Then you must embrace and express a people-centric mindset. You must become almost over-conscious that the people do not exist for your convenience. It is for the needs of the people why we exist. Hence, the focus always has to be on the well-being of the people.

Here is my view on how that new people-centric thinking should roll out. In our educational development from early childhood onward, we must embrace a purpose-driven approach. We should make clear the purpose of children, the purpose of youth, and the purpose of young adults in a nation. Every student should be taught what his or her focus ought to be in each phase.

A major problem with our children and youth is that there is no sense of purpose. They are not taught what they should be doing and becoming, when and how they should be doing it, and how it fits into where they are going. What motivates and drives performance is a clear sense of purpose. Our educational system doesn’t score high in this area. It’s past time to make the change.

The families who instil purpose in their children reasonably well see the positive results. Those who don’t, or can’t, also see the results: failure, dropouts, drugs, gangs, and other negative societal issues. I believe that the nation that instils in its young people a strong sense of purpose will begin to see the related positive results.

Strong leadership needed

The building of a strong nation cannot be left to a few individuals who have become skilled because of their exposure. Instead, visionary and responsible leaders must establish a system to intentionally direct the building process. In that regard, I must pause to congratulate Dr Christopher Tufton, our minister of health, for his proposed ‘sugary drink ban’ in schools. We saw some early resistance from the private sector by those who perhaps were worried that their profit margins would be impacted. Hopefully they are now fully behind our minister’s visionary and responsible leadership in this area.

I need not delve too deeply into the causal relationship of refined sugar to obesity, liver disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, all of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Go ask your doctor or Google! This is a matter that we must take seriously for our new-era Jamaica’s sake.

Too many of our children are being raised solely on bag juice and biscuit, cheese trix and soda. Be mindful that it’s not just their bodies that are negatively impacted. Consumption of refined sugar products can help to decrease attention span and memory, and cause hyperactivity at times when children need to be settled to learn. Researchers from the University of Southern California found that heavy consumption of refined sugar products may even lead to permanent damage of memory functions in the cognitive domain. Is that the kind of damaged child we want?

It was film director Stanley Kubrick who said, “I do not always know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want.” We here in Jamaica certainly know what we don’t want. We don’t want crime and violence and corrupt politicians. But the time has come for us to know what we want and work together to build the new Jamaica that we do want.

If we have desired outcomes then the appropriate inputs must be made in a timely structured manner. Any living thing left unattended and undirected will grow wild. Plants and animals have to be trained, tended and directed to get the best results and beauty.

We need to look at how students are trained in places that are achieving the best results in all-around student performance; places like Finland. What can we learn from them? Can we replicate the results of certain elite schools in Jamaica? We, as a nation, must engage the conversation on what we want and then employ the requisite action to deliver the outcome desired.

The Bible teaches, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) In other words, educate your child in relation to the outcomes you want him to achieve or the direction you want him to go.

Sadly, in our current Jamaica that kind of quality educational approach is still, for the most part, reserved for the elite. But it should not be so. High-quality education should not be for the few but for the many.

Interestingly, it was Martin Luther (the German reformer 1483 – 1546) and the advent of the printing press (William Tyndale 1494 – 1536) that allowed Christianity to become a champion of education for the masses and not just the few aristocrats of the day. There is something to be learned in our current time from the approach of these Christian educators and revolutionaries of long ago. They may not have known the term people-centric, but their lives were lived in such a people-centric way that their actions caused a quantum leap in education to make it available to the common man.

Perhaps if we were to take such an approach today we would see a quantum leap towards the new-era Jamaica we all desire to see — a prosperous Jamaica where all can live, work, raise families, and do business.

Copyright © 2018 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.


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