In the 1950s while a student at The Mico Practising School, a female student asked the teacher during a history class when we were learning about slavery, “Why did Africans sell fellow Africans to the slave traders?” The teacher paused and said that in the beginning of the slave trade, the first Africans sold/bartered were captives after tribal wars, and the ones selling their fellow Africans thought they were doing a “good” thing, because the captured ones had a chance of a better life, going with these nice pale men who were giving them mirrors, beads and tools that could either be used for war or agriculture!
The sellers were of the opinion that life with these “nice” men could be better than life in captivity! I am reminded of this part of my early life as a student when I read and listened to the objections of some Jamaicans to the new rule by ISSA that restricts the number of students with proven athletic ability from being transferred to School A from School B. School A, being by definition unable to fulfil the ambitions of the talented child. I expected the coaches and past students to raise objections.
The coaches of the school that benefits from transfers would now be required to really coach. They would be required to use the talent of the students on roll at the school, who, by their hard work and dedication, earned a spot at that school by virtue of their scores in the exam used to determine who goes where. No longer could they coach “ready-made” “experts” who were better than the average child, then boasting of “winning”.
A case in point: A coach who went to a rural school, took over a team prepared by another coach and won. When given “new” students, not transfers, the school got eliminated in the first round of the competition.
Consider for a moment, a child who dedicates “free” time and nights studying to obtain the grades necessary to gain entrance to the school of their choice. Once there they train hard with the other students who also gained entrance to School A hoping to represent the school at a sporting event, only to find that as the time for competition nears, a whole slew of “new” children arrive, genuinely more athletically gifted than they were, but because the elders wanted to win more than anything else, were reduced to watching and cheering on their school in competition.
I know of a “top” high school whose starting 11 in this year’s football competition has 10 boys who started their education at a different school. The regular sub also started his school career at another school. Those who, by virtue of their desire to attend the school, and who want to represent the school of their choice in football, can only watch and cheer.
Consider also the child who is enticed/bought to come to School A from School B to play sports but who suffers a long-term injury either during pre-competition practice or during the early stages of the competition. He is no longer “priority” and the perks of being on the team are gradually and painfully withdrawn.
And finally, consider the child who is transferred from School A to School B and is placed in a form because of age and the similarity of the stage of his academic development at his previous school, only to find that his classmates are far advanced, as they should be, simply because it was their academic scores that got them into School A in the first place! They become, I am informed, resentful and disruptive as they just cannot keep up with their new classmates.
Now I see intellectuals, heavily melanised, objecting to the restriction that ISSA has placed on wholesale transfers, arguing that the transfer by inducement (really buying and selling, a la slavery) is GOOD for the child. Blithely unaware of the large number of transferees who, after school, cannot take up the offers of foreign universities, or if allowed into our local universities by the excellent “scholarships” available, but who at the end of year one (or sometimes year two) are found to have missed so many classes or are just unable to keep up with the intellectual rigours of university life.
The move by ISSA is not the best, but it is a start. Talented and skilful children who, by virtue of their academic ability are placed IN THE SCHOOL OF THEIR CHOICE — as determined by what is written when the exam is taken — are coached, trained and developed by the coaches signed by that school. Upon developing a child, the coach sees all the hard work transferred to another school “for the sole purpose of winning”. The enticement, buying and selling of children is wrong! Let us all with one voice allow our children to develop as children, where school is about preparing them for life as an adult, able to work, raise families and be productive citizens of the country.
If they are good enough to be professional sportsmen and sportswomen, let us support clubs and academies where sports as well as academics go hand in hand. Our schools must not become places where children are prepared for the difficult and unforgiving life as a professional athlete, where they may be “useful” for 8 to 10 years, then what?