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Second chancers

EditorialSecond chancers

“We’ll remember always … graduation day!”

Sunday, June 2, 2024

This is the time of year when our blossoming young people, from kindergarten to university, are celebrating that special day in their lives — a day full of “pomp and circumstance”, hopes and dreams, packed with nostalgia, and cherished memories of simple events in the past years that suddenly seem so special, and that will soon become pieces of that special tapestry of our lives that will remain with us forever. We only live once, and our young graduates are more than ever being reminded that, now that they are young, hopefully the best of their lives are before them, and it is the wish of adults that they will all make it a happy and satisfying journey. Unfortunately, not all who embarked on the education journey will make it to this year’s graduation; but there is always tomorrow, and there should be a second chance to do well the next time around, whether at the same institution or another that might be more suited to one’s particular interest or inclination. We acknowledge that the success stories at each graduation exercise are only made possible by the contribution and support of the adults in the lives of the children and youth who wear the gowns and hats on that glorious day; but it is important for us as a nation and a people to also ensure that a safety net is in place for every child or young person who didn’t make it to graduation this time around; no one should be left behind.

In trying to address our crime and violence crisis, and the scourge of gangs and drugs in our communities, we sometimes tend to forget that each and every one of those young men who are now “giving battery”, was once an innocent and adorable little boy who somehow or somewhere got lost along the way. His failure is our failure. Let it not be that we will look upon these young men with criminal records and gang affiliations as “human animals”, the way the Israeli spokesmen look upon the occupied Palestinian people whom they accuse of harboring the Hamas “terrorists”. Behind every hardened criminal, there is a sad story, of neglect, abuse, rejection, abandonment, hunger and despair, etc. that eventually became the recipe for rebellion, anger and an anti-social outlook and behavior. The law must take its course, but the condemnation is upon ourselves as parents and leaders.

And, yes, it is a problem mainly among our young males. The Ministry of Education clearly shows, on page 7 of its “Abstract of Education Statistics 2022-2023”, a huge drop between primary school enrollment and secondary school enrollment in all districts. Of great concern also, is the apparent drop-out rate indicated by the 1st form and 4th form enrollment numbers, shown on page 46, “4.2 Secondary School Enrolment”, which reveals a drop from 6,934 total enrolled in 1st form, to a total of 4,504 in 4th form in all districts. And most notable is that, whereas in 1st form there are 166 more males (3,550) than females (3,384), by the time they reach 4th form, the picture is reversed, with 344 more females (2,424) than males (2,080) still enrolled.

It has been observed and demonstrated with clear numbers by a former minister of education, that it is a much better economic investment to send a child to school for a year, than to accommodate a prisoner at the Kolbe Foundation’s Belize Central Prison. The high crime rate and incarceration numbers indicate that too many of our young people, mostly males, keep falling into negative pursuits, when there should be opportunities for them to advance their educational development to make themselves productive and economically viable citizens of Belize.

The multi-pronged approach being taken by government is to be applauded and supported. There is indeed no quick-fix. And the best place to start is with our children and youth who have not yet fallen by the wayside, who still have the hope of one day walking down the aisle at their high school or sixth form or university graduation. And, in as much as certain corporate institutions will be taking note of the students who achieve high marks as possible recruits for their establishments, it would also be a worthwhile strategy for a special agency to be dedicated to tracking and assisting in creating the next educational steps for those students who didn’t make it. Some individuals mature later than others, and a safety net should be in place to ensure that no “failures” are left behind to become fodder for the already established criminal organizations. The recent opening of the Itz’at STEAM Academy is a great step, but it is not likely to fill the gap needed for the large numbers of students who have not made it to graduation or who are still left out of the job market. There is a crisis of numbers. Inasmuch as we celebrate our young graduates, ignoring the challenge of those left behind without a “paper” or a road map to higher education or employment, will be acceding to the inevitable process of idle minds becoming the breeding ground for recruitment into this stubborn arena of crime and gangs.

The use of sports in the William Dawson Peace Cup program is another laudable initiative. Sports without discipline is not sports, and this venture provides a great opportunity to instill the importance of discipline and respect for lawful authority in our youth. But it is a stepping stone. After the competition, then what? And thus emerges the urgent need for a drastic change in our attitude toward education in Belize. Rather than giving all the focus to the institutions and the great output they are producing, a much bigger focus also needs to be given to the individuals themselves, the students, all of them, to ensure that a safety net is in place to capture all who may have “failed” to make it in this graduation session. The work continues, and failure (like losing a game) is never the end, but only a stumbling block along the journey to success. And our education/social/security system needs to acknowledge that reality and provide the necessary resources for that journey to continue.

Every child/youth/individual must be accounted for. Our Social Security system should be enlisted to include every registered player on a sports team; and whenever sponsorship is available, or earnings accrue in professional situations, social security payments should be made on players’ behalf so that they begin the process of consolidating their future. Every person could thus be accounted for, and a “red flag” raised whenever a person is found to be outside of the system and still “living high”, suggesting possible involvement in illegal activities.

Graduation time is indeed for cheers and laughter and praises for the great achievers, and thanks to the sacrifices of parents and guardians, and kudos to the hard work of students who made it; but it needs to also be a time for serious reflection and attention to those of us who may have “fallen by the wayside”. It shouldn’t be over for us; we should have a second chance to make a success of ourselves, after having tasted the bitter pangs of failure. You won’t regret it, Belize. Have faith in us, and you will see the dwindling numbers in the gangs and crime statistics.

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