The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) has to date refrained from commenting on specific policies of the Government that are meant to address the Covid 19 pandemic. We have, unlike some other political parties and political activists adopted this approach because this health crisis must be above divisive politics, especially given our diversity and a political culture based on ethnicity. The MSJ, over the past six weeks has instead focused on offering very concrete and carefully thought out proposals to deal with the social and economic crisis that we knew from very early on would inevitably develop because of the nature of the global pandemic.
There are, however, increasing signs that the Government’s policies which are supposed to address the fallout from the pandemic will result in growing inequality. This will exacerbate the existing structures of inequality – of wealth and income; of educational opportunity – to name but two. It will also see many, many more people pushed into poverty and expand the numbers of citizens – especially the youth – who see little future for themselves in their country.
We are deeply concerned that the decision by the Ministry of Education to implement a programme of home based learning conducted by teachers using an “online platform” will seriously discriminate against the children whose parents are either unemployed or whose incomes are barely able to put food on the table. These children are more likely not to have the required access to devices and wifi to enable them to participate in the programme. Many of these children have parents or a single parent who may have to work (eg as a security guard) and therefore will not be at home to supervise their studies. Many of these children have been or are in schools that have already been proven to do poorly when it comes to exams such as the SEA and CSEC. If they had difficulty absorbing a curriculum designed to be delivered in a classroorm setting with a teacher present, how will they now suddenly cope with an online programme?
This is not because these children are less intelligent than any others, but rather because the structure of our education system and the nature of their social and economic circumstances have resulted in them being disadvantaged. The Ministry of Education’s new policy will exacerbate all of the problems that these children already experience. The MSJ calls on the Government to identify concretely what will be done to ensure that greater inequality will not be the result. We are in great danger of creating yet another “missing generation”. To avoid that we need clear thinking and the involvement of all stakeholders.