BY: JELANI GRANT
For the second day of the conference events, but day one of discussions, the Jamaica Diaspora Conference held panels covering issues in the education and health care sectors.
The University Hospital of the West Indies Medical Chief of Staff Dr. Carl Bruce moderated the panel. The Minister of Health Honourable Dr. Christopher Tufton communicated to his audience that prevention is the key to improved health care. Though the issue of the stalled ambulance gift from London made headlines during the conference, health care specialists pointed out other concerns that needed addressing. Dr. Tufton said that statistics show that there is a global shortage of health care specialist, but specifically Jamaica needs more nurses. ”In some instances, we are up to 70% short of the full complement that we require…many of them that are trained locally exercise the option to go abroad,” he said.
Dr. Tufton said the Jamaican government is calling on the globe through the World Health Organization, co-sponsored with other countries, to provide exchange programs which would train more nurses and create more positions across the globe. While they address their shortage of health care professionals, the Minister of Health said they are reaching out to youth in schools by holding organized discussions on diet control in a preventative effort. They are also working towards a national health insurance for the island aimed for the next financial year but said more funding is required to make this a reality. American researcher and surgeon Dr. Vincent Reid pointed out that prostate cancer has affected men of color most and made a call out for Jamaican Diasporas to partner together to invest in prostate cancer research.
The moderator for the education panel was Dr. Renee Rattray. Ruel Reid, Dr. Hansel Fletcher, Trevor Massey, and Leo Gilling made up the panel. Senator Reid began the panel by mentioning he felt he had strengthened connections with certain diaspora groups after visiting diaspora in Rochester, New York, Japan, and Toronto. Sen. Reid said the government budgeted $50 million towards the renovation and modification works in primary schools to create infinite departments in thirty schools. This funding was established to fulfill a long-term and short-term function. “The short term, children in all parishes will be provided access to quality early child infant school services that will positively impact their environment. In the long run, the provision of high-quality early childhood education will result in improved student performance at the primary and secondary levels,” he said.
Specifically representing Toronto’s public school system, BBPA board member Massey began his presentation by pointing out the significant Jamaican student population. “6.9% of the Greater Toronto Area identifies as black…the largest share of the black population in Ontario in the GTA has roots in Jamaica…12% of the [Toronto School Board] students identify as black and 41% of these students identify Jamaican as the family birthplace,” he said.
He said black students are less likely to attend university level courses and are more likely to be suspended from high school and/or drop out of school. He pointed out that these numbers ultimately impact the Caribbean community at home and abroad because of the decision-making tables, which impact Caribbean people, need greater Caribbean representation.
Massey spoke about Lifelong Leadership Institute’s goal of curbing those numbers by teaching promising students essential leadership skills.
“Our program spans for seven years. Students will enter from grade 10…they graduate from high school and we expect them to transition to university and then we continue to provide them with leadership development throughout their university years,” he said.
The senator referenced a 2004 study conducted that concluded that 24% of registered students required special needs education, and acknowledged that there must be a special education policy in place. “If we are going to make sure that there is an education for all, you have to have a policy framework that works for everyone,” he said.
Reid said the current policy leaves students behind who aren’t ready to transition to the next level, and attributed this as one of the reasons the labor force is currently sitting at 15%. He pointed out the issue of absentees the past few years and attributed this to the high costs of transportation for poor families. “We do have 20% absenteeism from our school…for us to solve that absentee issue when there are so many poor parents out there, can’t afford to send their children to school because of high transportation costs, imagine if we were able to have a National School Bus System, partnering with the diaspora,” he said.
Senator Reid said the various diaspora groups he met with agreed to invest in this program that he hopes to see in motion in the next year.