PLEASE allow me to respond to a letter authored by Mrs Annie Baliram, titled, “ The majority of Guyanese never fall into crime, even though Guyana is poverty stricken.”
Mrs Baliram, I’m not the most articulate person. Most men are not. You ladies are much better at it than us. What I was trying to say in my missive is that socio-economic inequalities and social breakdown are the greatest determining factors of crime. I am not saying that everyone growing up in poverty will turn to crime, I’m just saying it is a major factor.
I will now elaborate on what I meant by providing the ghetto youths a ladder to climb out of the doldrums of poverty and hopefully steer them away from a life of crime.Hopefully, this may provide a better understanding to Mrs Baliram and the wider reading public.
Recently, we had CXC results. In Guyana, 1500 kids have not passed a subject. In the Caribbean that number is over 6000. We have been celebrating, and rightly so, the one per cent that passed 20 subjects, but what will happen to those who were unsuccessful?
We recently had common entrance. Again we would celebrate the 10% that passed to go to the top secondary schools. What will happen with the 90% whose futures have been determined at the age of 11 years?
Why do some of these kids fail? In my opinion, it is not because of the lack of ability. It is because of their environment. Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, developed the concept of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Because of limitations of space I cannot elaborate on it. Essentially, what Maslow has postulated is that a learner cannot achieve ‘self actualisation’ (learn and achieve the best), unless the basic physiological needs (food, water, warmth and rest) are met. In poverty, those basic physiological needs are not met, so impoverished kids are at a major disadvantage at becoming the best they can possibly be.
Mrs Baliram, just do an audit of the students in the top secondary schools. I would say at least 90% do not have to worry about basic physiological needs. Most of them are from privileged backgrounds. Now go into the failing secondary schools. At least 90% of them are worrying about basic physiological needs and hence are facing a major impediment to learning. Are privileged kids smarter or are they just fortunate to have better opportunities?
Most of our failing kids are from very deprived neighbourhoods. Education is the greatest asset to upward social mobility. Kids who are brought up in those deprived neighbourhoods are stuck there forever. The education system in its nature has failed them. The political system has failed them. The social system has failed them. Not all will turn to crime. The majority will not. A minority will. That minority can create social problems for the majority, so they cannot be ignored.
What’s the solution? We have been executing them via extra-judicial killings for decades. Different governments had similar policies and having the same result. Remember Roger Khan and his phantom squad? If killing them was the solution, Guyana should be crime-free by now after Khan orchestrated the death of hundreds.The fact is, the problems persist. I’m not surprised, since we have not been addressing it from the root. Every year we are producing 1500 kids without qualifications. Some will continue the struggle in poverty. Raising their kids in poverty. And the cycle continues. Some will look at those getting richer while they are getting poorer and use that as a justification for going into crime. I am not defending it. I am merely stating a fact.
For me, the solution to this problem can begin with reforming our education system. We need to attract the best teachers. To do so we need to pay them better. Teachers are forced to have after- school lessons to augment their salaries. The unfortunate fact is that the underprivileged kids cannot pay to go to those lesson or have private tuition. Therefore, they have to contend with the inadequate teaching in school. Parents cannot help, because they were also products of a poor education system. Hence, the vicious cycle continues. Failure begets failure.
The government should develop policies to help failing schools. I would suggest incentivising teachers to teach in those failing schools. Give them a financial bonus to attract them to offer their services to those failing schools. Head teachers and senior teachers from Grade ‘A’ schools can play a role in advising those failing schools. Both are practised in other countries.
The government should have state-sponsored vocational colleges. Not everyone has an interest in academic education. Some of us are better with our hands. It is absolutely important that the government attach equal prestige to these vocational colleges in the exact way we celebrate the 20 CXC candidates.
The government should also provide financial support for underprivileged families. This could be in the form of school meals, school clothes, school books, etc. Parents should have money under defined conditions. Most of these are single parents. When they are struggling at their three jobs, the kids are left to their own devices. This monetary support should allow them to spend valuable time with their kids. University scholarships should be available to the underprivileged kids. Universities should set programmes to admit a defined percentage of children from underprivileged backgrounds, even if it means reducing the entry requirements. Not reducing it because they are not smart, but simply because they were at a disadvantage when compared to the privileged kids.
Our jails should be renamed correctional facilities and should become correctional facilities. Not just a place where offenders are locked away, but a place where their deviant behaviours are corrected. On leaving those correctional facilities, they should be better off than when they entered. Better in employable skills and social interaction.
Finally, please allow me to quote Mrs Baliram verbatim.“And so if you want to save the lives of criminals, then teach people good values instead of misleading them and visiting them in jail and attending their funerals.” Now a few questions for Mrs Baliram.
1. What is the link between having good values, visiting criminals in jail, attending their funerals and crime? Should we just lock them away, abandon them and leave them to rot?
2. In your letter, you appear to support extra-judicial killing without trial. Dr Westford was recently found not guilty of stealing. Would it not have been a disaster if we had extra-judicial killing of her without trial?
3. Dr Ashni Singh and Mr. Winston Brassington are facing the courts for misappropriation of state funds. Should we just have America deport them so that we can have a public extra-judicial execution?
4. What about our former ministers against whom allegations of corruption and stealing public funds are being made , not only by one of their party members, but the wider Guyana as a whole. Should we have extra-judicial killings of them all without trial?
If I chose to attend the funeral of a ghetto youth who has a mountain of allegations of crimes against him, but was killed extra-judicially, I’ll be attending the funeral of a innocent man simply because he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That right should be afforded the high school dropout or the university professor accused of a crime. That does not mean I’m championing crime, it simply means I am sympathising with a man who was denied his right of his day in court. My presence at the funeral is not a crime, extra-judicial killing is a crime. That is what you should condemn Mrs Baliram.
Somehow I sense Mrs Baliram, that you believe extra-judicial killings are only for ghetto youths. Their lives never matter. Do they?
Dr Mark Devonish