Even though I do not support all the approaches being taken to remedy our economic ills, I must admit that efforts are being made. However, while the economy is receiving attention, there are serious danger signs of social disintegration in the country we hold dear. Any pretence that all is well must certainly be shattered by the unprecedented number of murders occurring in the streets and homes across Barbados. Add to that the growing disrespect for law and order in our schools, and society, generally, and we would quickly recognise that “the country sick, the country ain’t well” (apologies to Red Plastic Bag).
Putting more boots on the ground may be a show of force and “not ‘bout here” fighting political Bajanese, but these alone will be useless unless we deal with the factors contributing to the rise of crime. I was pleased to hear the Honourable Prime Minister, during the course of her Budget presentation on Wednesday, promise seven social workers in primary schools and more guidance counsellors in the secondary schools. It showed that she understands the nexus between the challenges facing students and the lawlessness being manifested among teens and young adults. If Ms Mottley is signalling that she is open to suggestions for ways of tackling social problems, I am prepared to offer some, starting with this article.
With regard to her proposal for social workers and guidance counsellors, I would argue that we have enough guidance counsellors whose major role really is to offer help in career choices. What is required is a social worker at each secondary school for the purpose of uncovering and treating to some of the social problems experienced by students. Hopefully, interventions at both the primary and secondary school levels will result in fewer teenagers being lost to the gang and block culture. It is more cost effective to hire social workers while our young people are still capable of being rescued than to deploy scarce resources for their upkeep in prison later when they have become hardened criminals.
I am glad to learn that the Government proposes to review the 11-plus examination. It is my hope that the authorities come to the conclusion that providing for the physical, emotional, social, academic and psychological needs of all our children is more important than maintaining elitism and bragging rights for parents and primary school principals and teachers. We can no longer afford the wastage of human resources which results from a system that shows preference for those whose aptitude is purely academic, while sidelining those who are more inclined to technical and vocational areas, sports and the arts. The society needs the gifts of all its citizens.
The school curriculum must be broadened to include moral and values education. It is clear a growing number of youth have no respect for the value of life; are irresponsible and indisciplined; seem not to understand the difference between good and evil; and have no commitment to country. Education for life must be the mantra of our educational system. We, therefore, need to encourage students to learn life lessons through good literature, wholesome songs and dance. Those of us over 60 fondly remember how much we learnt from poems such as The Psalm of Life and Drive the Nail Aright Boys and, like Sir Elliot Belgrave, drank in the lyrics and melody of The Ashgrove. From very early, parents must find time to read uplifting stories to their children. Young people will give out what they take in. That is why Paul in Philippians, 4:8 admonishes us to reflect upon things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report. We have to find ways of countering the diet of vulgar and violent music being served on public service vehicles and social media. We are waging a battle against “principalities and powers”, and have to use all the tools at our disposal. No retreat, no surrender.
There must be an assault on indiscipline in the transport sector. The time for excuses is over. Music must be removed from public service vehicles immediately; the regulation governing the wearing of uniform must be strictly enforced; and effective measures taken against infringements such as stopping at places not allowed, driving and drinking, speeding and dangerous overtaking. In addition, owners must be held accountable for the manner in which their vehicles are used on our roads
The healthcare team in the Obstetrics Departments of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and our polyclinics should include professionals who would be required to teach pregnant mothers and, after delivery, both parents, the rudiments of good parenting. Churches and community organisations should be encouraged to continue this work. Parenting should also be part of the Family Life Programme at secondary school.
An all-out battle has to be waged against youth unemployment. The Ministry of Youth Affairs ‘Blockpreneur’ project can be useful if properly executed, but we have to go further and equip our school leavers for the opportunities available as well as the ones they can create for themselves.
Housing remains a massive challenge. The days of overcrowded small houses and shacks should long have ended. They can be the breeding grounds for social problems. It can’t be beyond our Government, private sector and NGOs to launch an initiative to provide improved housing for those who cannot afford it.
Of course, despite our best efforts at prevention, some people will still turn to a life of crime. What we need to do is to overhaul the criminal justice system with the aim of speeding up the hearing of cases and administering justice in a timely but fair manner. Drug abusers need to be treated, not imprisoned, and those young people who find themselves caught in the vice grip of criminal gangs should be helped to extricate themselves. In my view, persons who have committed calculated and premeditated murder should be executed once found guilty beyond a shadow of doubt. That, though, is the subject of another article. I repeat the point I made previously that prison sentences should be reserved for violent offenders. Criminologists can help us devise alternative punishment for persons found guilty of non-violent crimes.
Finally, policemen and women should be better remunerated; they should not have to go to work worrying about how they are going to provide adequately for their families and pay bills. At the same time, there must be a ocused effort made to persuade bright young men and women to choose policing as a career. Needless to say, the police high command must intensify efforts to rid the force of corrupt and/or incompetent officers. The work of the force is too critical in the fight against crime for it to be compromised by crooked cops.
As we attempt to fix the economy, therefore, we need to pay close attention to the social environment. In such a small island, it will not take much for social anomie to destroy the economic gains we try hard to provide. The time for action to rescue our society is now.
John Goddard, Retired Educator