I have had several responses to articles I have written dealing with the importation of youngsters into high schools, in an attempt to influence the outcome of sporting events. Some persons have been supportive, giving their own experiences as teachers, parents, coaches and even principals.
I take the time now to look at the points made by Mr Andrew Edwards in the Observer dated January, 4, 2012, who has a different but well stated view.
Mr Edwards stated his backing for the status quo and is all for the continued importation of youngsters into high schools based on their sporting prowess. Of course this is expected since Mr Edwards is the football coach of St Elizabeth Technical High School, a highly favoured school.
Most coaches would like to coach the strongest possible teams at all times. Importation of youngsters into high schools based on their sports ability facilitates this, so it is understandable that Mr Edwards would be a vigorous defender of the practice.
By importing youngsters, there is the distinct possibility of bringing together an all-schools team at one school. A school can win based primarily on the talent gathering ability of the school group. I agree with Mr Edwards that the practice of importing youngsters into high schools based on their sporting prowess is still vibrant and widespread.
Mr Edwards gave a few examples of successful "transferees" and we all know that there are several others. If Usain Bolt had been imported, he also would have been numbered among this list. The fact is that many of these youngsters would have been successful anyway. The fact also is that many importees are brought in from schools which are in the same competitions. Mr Edwards and I know also that for every success, there are many "failures".
As Mr Edwards stated: "It is also a big thing for schools to be tops in sports. It gives them leverage; it makes them known and attractive." This is in fact the reason. This is at the core of the focus of sports in high school being destabilised and shifted from aiding in the holistic development of our children to other designs. That is why the win-at-all-cost approach was encouraged and developed by our high schools (hence importation).
It is for this glory that high schools bring in illiterate, semi-literate and generally, youngsters who are far below the normal academic admission requirements that other students have to meet. This is why they are allowed to repeat endless times, so that they may compete some more for the school. This is why some youngsters and their parents are enticed with cash and/or kind to change schools. This is why the sports programmes of schools are raided and weakened, making it more difficult for those schools or coaches to excel. This is why some schools are referred to as FC (football club). Is this what sports in high school is meant to be? They are using these youngsters to bring glory to the school. A good many of these children leave, oftentimes after many years of being in high school, hardly able to read, write or speak a proper sentence.
After her 17-year-old relative spent several years as a big "baller" at a very well-established and renowned high school, a lady expressed her shock on bringing him to Europe only to find that he was barely literate. I submit that too much of this is happening. I know of many very talented schoolboy footballers and track stars who were imported into high schools but ended up in the trash bin of life, after having been used by the high school.
The youngsters (who give their all) and their parents are really pawns in a game played and controlled by others. If one knows that a referee is not enforcing the offside rule in a football match, one would be remiss not to take full advantage of the opportunities that situation would present. One cannot blame the player and similarly, one cannot fault the children or their parents. The questions though, would relate to the referee in the former instance and to the educators in the latter.
Many of these youngsters end up essentially at the same place they were before being imported or at the same place they would have been had they not been imported or worse. In his piece, Mr Edwards wrote, "Marvin Morgan, for example, moved from Mona High School to St George's College to become a champion and was much sought after by numerous US colleges". Unfortunately, this youngster is typical of a large number of children who allegedly are plucked from a given school and placed in another because of sporting ability, under the pretext of "helping" them. This tremendous football talent is yet to attend a US college. He now represents Boys' Town, the club he was a member of from his time at Mona. Who was really helped? His departure and that of another who also starred for STGC devastated the Mona programme. There are a number of other schools that share the Mona agony.
More than 4,000 youngsters per year are involved in the football and track and field (boys and girls) squads of our high schools. How many get sports scholarships or develop successful professional careers? What is the quality of many of these scholarships?
Too many have been lured into entertaining false hope, abandoning all else as they were led down the sports dead-end path by others who stood to benefit. If sports were used as it should be in high school, as a teaching tool, then all who participate would benefit, we would have a win-win situation. We would bring to light and develop more talent from within the school walls, at the same time our highly talented children would still shine, and our management of sports would send the right messages to our youngsters. We would put the best interest of our children before everything else.
Sports and academics are not equal entities and don't carry equal weight in our high schools. The equation should be very heavily skewed in favour of academics. There should be no comparison between sports and academics as entry requirements for high school. We need to remember that our high schools function primarily as educational institutions. They are principally and overwhelmingly specialised academic/technical educational institutions, not sports academies.
In our system, there should be standards that reflect this. Our schools have Chemistry labs, Physics labs, Language labs, IT labs and other resources that are only found in specialised institutions. If our schools are bringing in youngsters, shouldn't we be looking at those who show aptitude in these and other such areas but lack the facilities/resources to really excel?
For example, Singapore has made significant economic and health gains for a large majority of its population by placing the highest priority on education and has used their high schools as academic/technical educational institutions.
They believe that this is the only way they will be able to keep up and compete in the knowledge-driven world in which they find themselves. They have all had different levels of high schools to cater to different capabilities. Sports in high school has been fitted and operates within this educational context as a teaching medium, as an extension of the classroom. They have their priorities right.
I suggest that since sports is so important to us it is better to have special high schools/institutions set up to provide for talented sports youngsters, whatever their academic potential. Maybe we could have some of our current schools evolve into such institutions. In this way, our education system would not be compromised and we would use our scarce academic educational resources more efficiently. In this way, youngsters "from schools who don't even participate at 'Champs' or in football" could be accommodated in a legitimate way, in a way that does not disfigure our educational framework, in a way that does not necessitate tampering with marks etc, in a way that does not send the wrong messages to our youngsters, in a way that does not do them or other youngsters injustice.
The fact that we have to twist, modify, adjust the normal academic admission requirement to facilitate so many of the "transferees", indicates that something is wrong with our current approach. We need to change it.
In principle, sports in our high schools should be working on the youngsters who have earned their places at the school based on the competitiveness generated by academic guidelines sanctioned by our education system. There is nothing wrong with giving scholarships to those who meet these guidelines and excel in other areas, eg sports. Sports then can be used in the training of these qualified youngsters, as a socialising tool, helping to build character, helping to inculcate the principles, values, attitudes and life skills the society holds dear.
Indeed, sports presents many teachable moments both on and off the field and this should be the emphasis in a high school educational setting. This is particularly relevant in a Jamaica where the family is under severe strain. However, because of the emphasis on winning-at-all-cost in high schools (exemplified by importation), the primary role of sports in the educational framework has been deflected, distorted and diminished and sports has lost much of its potency as a teaching, socialising tool.
Editor's note: Dr Lascelve Graham is a former St George's College, All-Manning, All-Schools and Jamaica football captain.