Saturday, August 20, 2016

Do you believe in Global Warming?

Wigton Wind Farm, Jamaica
Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant physicists of our age, on his 70th birthday, warned that the greatest threat to the future of the planet is global warming, (but journalists were more interested in what he thought about Donald Trump). Most people understand what is meant by the ‘greenhouse effect’ – carbon dioxide (CO2) forms a layer around the earth that prevents the heat of the sun from escaping, in the same way as glass in a greenhouse. What is not so well understood is that the hotter it gets, more and more water evaporates and the water vapour itself acts as a greenhouse gas, multiplying the effect of the carbon dioxide. This is an example of positive feedback, (like having a microphone too near a speaker box) which will result in further increases in temperature causing more water to evaporate, hence more greenhouse effect.
Prof Stephen Hawking
Photo © Jaime Travezan
At the present time, the only way this can be prevented is to cut down on emissions of CO2, primarily by stopping the generation of electricity from the use of fossil fuels.  If the emissions of CO2 are not cut down, we will reach a tipping point, where nothing more can be done. Global warming will be irreversible.
     The reason I gave this post the title ‘Do you believe in Global Warming?’ is because many people, including those in positions of power and influence, deny that it is happening, in spite of all the evidence – melting polar ice-caps, higher than average temperatures every year, record temperatures being recorded. This is not the first time that those in authority have refused to believe scientists. In 1634, Galileo was condemned to house arrest for the heresy of believing that the earth was not the centre of the universe, and that the earth revolves around the sun. This happened a long time ago and would be thought of as ridiculous today. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of time to convince the world about the causes of global warming. 
Professor Anthony Chen

 Jamaica’s own Professor The Hon. Anthony Chen, OM, an Atmospheric Physicist at UWI, was a member of the Team which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for efforts made to increase and disseminate greater knowledge of man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change. How many Jamaicans know of his work or of this award? I hope the present government will have the sense to consult him.
In an article in the Sunday Gleaner on August 14, 2016, "Betting Against Coal" he addressed the question of energy generation in Jamaica.
     In relation to proposed coal fired generation and alumina smelting he said: While there will be immediate gains for the owners, in particular, and for the country, the extent to which is still not clear, the losses in the long run will cancel these gains. This statement must be considered in the light of climate change. Further on in the article he noted: China is to shut down 4,300 old coal mines and ban new coal mines for the next three years, and it has placed a ban on new coal-fired plants in areas where there is excess electricity generation. Don’t we live on the same planet as the Chinese? Even if they want to blame Jamaica for producing the CO2, it will still have the same effect. Contrary to popular belief, Jamaica’s greenhouse gas emission (GHG) is not insignificant.
     Professor Chen also pointed to the possibility of a carbon tax: If the new US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rule will effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants because the CO2 emission rates required of fossil plants are so strenuous that no conventional coal plant could meet them; the state of Oregon has become the first U.S, state to ban coal plants; UK coal plants are to be phased out in 10 years.
The World Bank head has warned against new coal plants. In this scenario where there is a ban on coal, the owners of the Alpart plant would be in a tight situation since coal, if it is available, will likely be expensive because of mechanisms put in place to restrict its use, such as a tax on carbon, and the project may well be abandoned.

A wild fire in California

If the world decides to wait to see what happens, the decision to get rid of fossil fuels would probably take place around 2040 to 2050, when climate-change disasters become so severe that the world will see that it has to get rid of fossil fuel. These disasters could take the form of extreme drought and floods, heat waves killing thousands, unstoppable wildfires, severe storms, accelerated sea-level rise, food and water shortage, and acidification of the seas.
In this scenario, Jamaica will be spending billions on combating the impacts of the disasters which will continue well beyond 2040 to 2050, again because of the lag between emission of CO2 and additional warming. Our losses, because of the billions of dollars spent to fight the disaster, will be more than what we have gained from the operation of the coal plant.
CARIBSAVE, for example, put the estimated cost of sea-level rise to CARICOM countries at between US$30 billion and US$60 billion by 2050.
Professor Chen suggested, that instead of building a coal-fired plant, we should become pioneers in the development of renewable energy, from sun, wind, waves and hydropower, with a mix of large-scale plants, and small-scale generation at homes and business places. As he says, Solar and wind take up space, but consider that the amount of solar radiation falling on one-thousandth of the area of Jamaica is sufficient to provide all our electricity demand, assuming a conversion efficient of 20 per cent. Consider also other sources of renewable energy that are more persistent, such as offshore wind farms and wave energy.
Solar panels on a roof

The ultimate benefit of having renewable energy as 100 per cent of our energy source is that we will no longer depend on imported energy resources such as oil and coal.  Our energy fuel, such as wind and solar, will be free, and we will have energy security and independence. As pioneers, we can attract funding from sources like the Green Climate Fund or the World Bank. But it should be clear that we cannot profess to be pioneers in the field of renewables if we have a 1,000MW coal plant belching out toxic material; no funding agent would consider us to be serious.
He discussed the problem of storage of electricity, which is at present challenging, but much research is being done, with new technologies coming on stream.
He suggested how we can become these pioneers:

1. We should be leading the charge at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on behalf of island states. We should negotiate a UNFCCC-sponsored meeting of the leading world experts on storage of energy and renewable energy to determine the future prospects in energy storage and renewable energy which are best for island states, and have UNFCCC set up bodies to seek funding for research and development in these areas.

2. We should do more to encourage the use of renewable energy in homes and business places.

Wind Turbines at Ultimate Jerk Centre, Discovery Bay
They also have solar panels.
3. We should seek funds for pilot projects on utility-scale storage. We could start small like just having enough storage for frequency regulation and  ramp up when electricity supply fluctuates. With enough experience and pioneer status, we could seek funding for more ambitious projects like utility storage for peak usages in the evening.
     My own suggestion is that the National Water Commission should install solar panels to supply electricity to pump water to customers and storage tanks during the day. The water in the storage tanks could then flow by gravity to supply customers during the night.
     On a final note, the UNFCCC is doing its work. It is now the responsibility of governments to educate their populations on the dangers of global warming and what we can all do to mitigate it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Summer Reading for 8-12 year-olds

 Summer holidays have come round again with parents wondering what would be the most useful way for children to spend the time. I strongly recommend that they should read for pleasure, as this has been shown to improve performance, not only in reading, but also in math. See my blog post of July 2012 SummerReading - Some Surprising Findings 
The challenge in Jamaica is to select appropriate titles, other than Enid Blyton books, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. I have already written blog posts with lists of books, namely Books by JamaicanAuthors, Books from Africa and 1000 Black Girl Books. For books by other Caribbean authors see Anansesem online bookstore.
Here now, in alphabetical order of authors, is a list of 30 books for girls from a list of over 200 chosen by students at   Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) Edgecomb, Maine. (I started with girls’ books after I was dismayed by the 3 ‘literature’ books, which included Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men', listed on a high school booklist.) However, boys like many of these books, too. All books are available on Amazon. Most of the authors have written several books - check them out.
L stands for lexile – a measure of ease of reading – the lower the lexile, the easier the book.

1 Agell, Charlotte    Welcome Home or Someplace Like It 
2 Bowler, Tim    Storm Catchers L560 A scary book set in the UK, liked by boys also.
3 Brashares, Ann    The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants trilogy
4 Carman, Patrick  Thirteen Days to Midnight L760
5 Choldenko, Gennifer   Al Capone Does My Shirts L600 Set in the notorious prison, Alcatraz, where the protagonist's father worked.
6 Colfer, Chris    Land of Stories Refers to familiar fairy tales. 
7 Creech, Sharon    Walk Two Moons L770 13-year-old girl searches for truth about her missing mother.
8 Funke, Cornelia    Inkheart L780 The characters come out of the pages of a book.
9 Giff, Patricia Reilly    Wild Girl L640 A horse story from Brazil to New York.
10 Grimes, Nikki    The Road to Paris L700  Paris is the name of the brown girl protagonist in a white foster home.
11 Hale, Dean    Calamity Jack L560 Sci Fi, Fantasy, Fairy Tales and Folklore.
12 Hale, Shannon  Princess Academy Girls from a mountain village prepare for a prince to choose one of them as his bride. Surprising twist at the end. 
13 Hiassen, Carl    Flush and Hoot Fast-paced detective stories related to environmental breaches in Florida.
14 Hobbs, Will    Jackie's Wild Seattle L660 Adventure related to wild-life rescue. 
15 Holm, Jennifer    Turtle in Paradise L610 Set in the Great Depression, Turtle (11-year-old girl) is sent to live with relatives in Florida.

16 Hunt, Lynda Mullaly    Fish in a Tree L550 A story about dyslexia
17 Lord, Cynthia    Rules The challenges of living with a brother with autism.
18 Lowry, Lois    Number the Stars L670 Smuggling Jews out of 1940's Denmark.
19 Magoon, Kekla    The Rock and the River About the Civil Rights Movement.
20 Myers, Walter Dean   Monster a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial.
21 O'Dell, Scott    Island of the Blue Dolphins Survival story of a girl alone on a deserted island.
22 Park, Linda Sue    A Long Walk to Water Set in the Sudan, with references to The Lost Boys of Sudan
23 Patterson, Katherine    Lyddie A story of personal determination and growth, set in textile mills in USA
24 Riordan, Rick    The Lightning Thief  L470 Fantasy related to Greek Mythology. There is also a graphic (comic-style) version.
25 Ryan, Pam Munoz Esperanza Rising L750 A riches to rags story.
26 Sachar, Louis    Holes L660 Stanley wrongly sent to a boys' detention centre and unravels a mystery.
27 Watkins, Yoko Kawashima    So Far from the Bamboo Grove About a Japanese family escaping from Korea at the end of WW2
28 Woodson, Jacqueline    Feathers L710 takes readers on a journey into a young girl’s heart and reveals the pain and the joy of learning to look beneath the surface.
29 Yousafzai, Malala    I Am Malala Story of Pakistani girl who survived the attempt to murder her because she wanted an education.
30 Zhang, Kat    What's Left of Me Fantasy - people are normally born with 2 souls, 1 of which dies. What happens when both survive?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Launch of Ellen Pearl Outreach Children’s Charity (EPOCC)

A children’s charity with a difference was launched on Friday, May 27, 2016 at the UWI Western Campus. The Ellen Pearl Outreach will be the medium through which children in need of help can telephone a trained counsellor to talk about their problems. At the launch, its founder, Mrs. Beverley Chung spoke about its inception, and Dr. Pearnel Bell told us how it will work in Jamaica. Stakeholder groups brought greetings and children entertained with song and poetry. The keynote address was given by Juliet Holness, MP for St Andrew East Rural, graciously standing in at short notice for The Hon. Marlene Malahoo Forte Q.C., MP, who was indisposed.
     After delivering her opening remarks, Joy Crooks, Nurse Administrator at CUMI invited Rev. Lenworth N Anglin to lead us in prayer, followed by greetings from stakeholder groups.
     Mrs. Gage-Grey of the Child Development Agency (CDA) welcomed the contribution that this charity offers. 10 in every 1000 children are in need of intervention, meaning 8000 children for their population in Jamaica. The CDA is on a mission to protect children and looks out for ways of getting involved in the national conversation. We need to see each child as our own. CDA endorses EPOCC and looks forward to a meaningful partnership.
     Dr  Claudette Crawford-Brown, Lecturer in the Dept. of Social Work at UWI brought greetings from that institution, and from  Jamaica Association for Social Workers, and from other organizations she represents. After 40 years in child advocacy, she recognizes that the social status of the child is in a lot of trouble.   I wrote in my notes that 100 children were murdered in 2015. (I hope I made a mistake and that that isn’t true.) Only one child was murdered in 1993. Sexual abuse is increasing at an alarming rate. 700 children went missing. People are crying out for solutions, but the link between the micro-level and solutions is missing. This programme could pave the way to macro-level solutions.
     Mrs. Debbian Livingstone Edwards brought greetings from the Office of the Children’s Advocate, (OCA). She also welcomed the programme because children require free and ready access. There is a gap in the availability of psychosocial services, and there is a need for sustained counselling.  She reminded us that it is our civic duty to protect the rights of children.
     Greetings from FLOW/Lime Foundations was to have been brought by Mrs. Shellian O’Connor, who was unavailable because of illness, but she assured EPOCC of their commitment.
     Corinaldi Avenue Primary School choir treated us to an emotional rendition of their song; and Mount Alvernia High School’s Susanna Hyde, Child Ambassador for the OCR for Region 4, performed a poem about a boy accused of stealing. I wasn’t sure if he was guilty or not, but Susanna’s enactment made us feel his fear and sense of isolation.
      We saw Ms. Ottoa Wilson busy videotaping the launch, and were then introduced to her work – a short video about child abuse in Jamaica, and her paintings and drawings displayed around the room. 
  Mrs. Beverley Chung, who was born in Catadupa, St James, but left Jamaica when she was nearly 9, took us on her journey to the founding of EPOCC. She keeps in touch with Jamaica and is distressed about what is happening. She wrote a poem entitled Jamaica Weeps, Jamaica Bleeds. Inspired by a visit to Bridge of Hope Charity in Uganda, her question “Why don’t they do something?” became “Why don’t I do something?” She knew that she herself had the skills to run a charity, inherited from her grandmother, Ellen, and he mother, Pearl, who both started churches and for whom EPOCC is named. She also had experience of working with Childline in the UK.  She shared her vision with Dr. Pearnel Bell and Nurse Joy Crooks, who both said, “We need to listen to children”.  A further impetus came from Sir Patrick Allen, Governor General of Jamaica’s address to the 6th Biennial Diaspora Conference (June 2015), in which he encouraged support for community projects that would positively impact the lives of children. Hence EPOCC was born.

EPOCC’s vision is to improve the lives of children.
 Mission -Initial Aims:
  • To provide a national free 24hr helpline service manned by fully trained counsellors
  • email and Web-chat counselling service for children on any problem whatsoever
  • Register of services with appropriate referrals
Long-Term Aims:

  • Visit to schools, youth clubs/centres and churches to inform on abuse awareness and to empower children to say 'no' and/or to report abuse
  • Transitional opportunities and mentoring post 18 years for children that have been in care
  • Further educational opportunities for disadvantaged youths


In the UK: Beverley Chung, Roger Panton, Jacqueline Longmore, Mrs. Cecelia Ellis (UK Treasurer), Mrs Emma Barton (Fundraiser).

In Jamaica: Joy Crooks (Secretary), Dr. Pearnel Bell, Hopeton Ridgard – Board Member for Finance; employed at JMMB; works in youth ministry.

Mrs. Chung had consultations with Esther Rantzen, who started Childline in the UK. Subsequently,

On Oct 12, 2015, EPOCC was launched in the UK.

From Oct ’15 to Jan’16, the organizational structure was worked out.

From June to September 2016, the training of volunteers will take place.

How you can help: sponsorship, advocacy, fund-raising and volunteering. Together we  can change the future of our children.

Dr. Pearnel Bell then spoke about Jamaica Childline. There was a helpline in Jamaica before, but it only lasted 7 years because of lack of support. It is needed more than  ever now with mental health problems escalating. The incidence of untreated mental health problems becomes a public health problem.
          They are actively recruiting volunteers, and 60 persons have applied so far. They will be given 40 hours of training. An international trainer will train the trainers in Jamaica. The government agencies: OCR; CDA and OCA will be present at the training.
          A SWOT analysis was performed:
Strengths – Trustees in UK and Jamaica. Aggressive fund-raising’

Weaknesses – lack of support from stakeholders; keeping in touch with stakeholders.

Opportunities – for sponsorship and to achieve.

Threats -  lack of support from stakeholders; naysayers; financial sustainability; numbers of volunteers.          

However, with 3 universities and 1 college on board, it is hoped that EPOCC will prevail.
Mrs. Juliet Holness in conversation with Dr. Pearnel Bell
“If we don’t stand up for our children, we stand for nothing,” said the dynamic Kimone Clarke, a social worker, in introducing The Guest Speaker, Mrs. Juliet Holness, MP for St Andrew East Rural, and wife of Prime Minister, Mr. Andrew Holness. Ms. Clarke piled on ‘special’ after ‘special’ in describing Mrs. Holness, who demonstrates in word and in deed that she stands up for children.
Keynote Address
“Children are a gift from the Lord and a blessing” quoted Mrs. Holness. She then debunked two common sayings used in relation to children.

1.     “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is often quoted as a command to beat children. However, the rod is not intended for beating. The shepherd’s rod was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them. There are other ways of punishing children, such as time-out and withholding privileges.

2.     “Children should be seen and not heard.” Children do make excessive noise sometimes, but it is our responsibility to listen to children as well as talk to them, so that we can be sure we understand each other. Body language is not sufficient engagement. They can tell right from wrong and know how to trick you.

It is our responsibility to build children’s self-esteem.

Re the internet: many people are fearful of children using the internet, rightly so as there are pitfalls. While it is useful for children to be able to do their own research, we need to pay attention to what they are doing on the internet. Children push hard against rules and norms, so parents and other adults in charge of children must give guidance to give support for positive development.
     She welcomed the launch of EPOCC, pointing out that child abuse includes emotional abuse; and that we don’t realize how many children are in need of this service. A desperate human is one with no hope. She implored us to support the work of EPOCC.
     The function closed with the presentation of an orchid to Mrs. Holness by Hopeton Ridgard; Vote of Thanks by Mrs. Janette Allen; Closing Remarks by Joy Crooks; and closing prayer by Rev. Milton Davidson.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Diagnostic Testing of Basic School Children in Jamaica

Rose Davies
          In the past, the curriculum in Jamaican primary schools tended to be knowledge based with an emphasis on factual information to be learnt by rote rather than a learning-how-to-learn approach. The one-size-fits-all method of imparting information does not allow for differences in learning styles and rates by different children. The result of this approach has been that some children get left behind and turned off education, so at the end of 11 years of schooling too many end up with no qualifications. Some drop out of the system without having basic literacy and numeracy skills.
To address this problem, the Ministry of Education introduced the Grade 4 literacy test to identify children not performing at that level. They were required to have mastery in that test before being allowed to take the Grade Six Achievement Test. Because some children did not do so before being of age to enter secondary school, the Alternative Secondary Transitional Education Programme (ASTEP) was introduced. (See my blog post of March 22) It became obvious to those administering ASTEP that an earlier intervention was desirable. Then came GOILP – Grade One Individual Learning Profile, with children who were deemed not ready for Grade 1 being placed in a separate class.
        With the work of the Early Childhood Commission  over the last 10 or more years, there has been a great improvement in the standards of Jamaica’s Basic Schools. The great importance of early childhood education and early detection of learning difficulties has come to be recognized. After several years of preparation, the ECC on May 10 and 11, 2016, administered its first diagnostic testing of 4-year-olds in over 2000 Early Childhood Institutions, with the purpose of finding out whether a child has a specific learning disability or learning disorder with another cause, or even a behavior disorder, so that appropriate interventions can take place at the earliest possible time.  Interventions will be made by Regional Special Needs Coordinators and Regional Assessment Teams consisting of 2 psychologists and 2 diagnosticians. There is ongoing training of teachers in the area of special education. (See my blog post of April 14)

In the Sunday Gleaner of May 22, 2016, Rose Davies expressed her concerns about the methods of testing 4-year-olds, in an article entitled Cautions on Early Childhood Assessment. I share those concerns. I can understand the aim of the Early Childhood Commission that the assessment be as objective as possible, but as Mrs. Davies points out, that is hard to achieve with young children. Surely it would be reasonable to have in addition some subjective assessment also by the teachers who work with these children every day? Mrs. Davies also expressed concern about the absence of public information leading to the rollout of this assessment.
          In an article entitled  Pressure For Primary School Students - Pupils Face Four Prime Tests In Six Years” by Deika Morrison in The Gleaner of April 25, 2012, she wrote: (highlighting is mine).
Deika Morrison
      “The Early Childhood Commission (ECC), mandated to supervise and regulate the early childhood sector, is about to begin working on a national-evaluation tool for four year olds. They need to be evaluated for real readiness in the main developmental areas - gross and fine motor skills (gross means big movements like running, fine means small movements like picking up things with finger), speech, social skills, emotional skills, brain development and their approach to learning.

          According to the ECC, this evaluation tool will be specifically designed for Jamaican children and meant to identify what kind of support children need to go forward in the primary-school system. The idea is to be able to identify, before they enter primary school, which of the three categories children fall into: 1) need no additional support in the regular school environment 2) need additional support in the regular school environment or 3) need a specialised school environment.
           Chance for intervention
           The evaluation will be timed to allow for a full year of intervention for those lagging developmentally, as well as specialised attention if needs be. The bottom line is that four year olds don't need a four-year-old version of GSAT. If we are to get the maximum return for the necessary investment in early childhood education, then we must have appropriate tools - which we agree on as a nation - to identify the problems and deal with them appropriately.
          It is time for child-centric interventions, like evaluations that can best help children. We don't know when the ECC evaluation tool will be implemented, but we know we don't have 18 years to 2030 for all of our children to fully master the basics.”

In addition to carrying out diagnostic tests with the best of intentions, the ECC and MOE need to educate parents on the purpose of the testing – it is not to label a child as dumb or bright, nor is it to punish a child who performs poorly in a test. It is to find out the best way of helping children to learn and to grow up to become productive, healthy, well-adjusted members of society.



Saturday, May 21, 2016

Cruising to Montego Bay and Skagway - the fortunes of 2 railway lines

Remains of Railway Station at Catadupa
Jamaica boasts the first railway line to be built outside Europe and North America. It began with a 15 mile stretch in 1845. In the 1890's extensions were carried through difficult country to Montego Bay and Port Antonio. However, it was closed to the public in 1992, because of recurring losses, a backlog of deferred maintenance and deterioration of stock and buildings. An attempt to reopen it to the public was made in 2011, but the trial period indicated that it would again be a loss-making venture, so it was closed in 2012.  Only the lines used by bauxite trains are still in service. Could the railway ever succeed in breaking even? Mike Henry, Transport Minister in the recently elected JLP administration, thinks so.

     Prior to its closure, a tourist attraction called the Governor's Coach, travelled by rail from Montego Bay up into the hills through Anchovy, Montpelier and  Cambridge to Catadupa, where you could choose fabric for a dress, be measured and pick up the dress on your return journey.
 The next stop at Ipswich was long enough for you to go and explore the caves. Then there was a gradual descent to Maggotty, and the final stop was Appleton, where lunch was served. I believe it was also possible to include the Appleton Estate Rum Factory Tour which is now accessed by road.
After lunch, you returned to Montego Bay seeing the spectacular scenery from a different perspective. The distance one way is 36 miles.

Another railway frequented by cruise ship passengers is that from Skagway, in Alaska, to White Pass and Yukon, completed in 1900 in response to a Gold Rush, which was soon over. However, the White Pass and Yukon Route  survived by diversifying to encompass wharves, hotels, aircraft, buses, pipelines, trucks and ships. In 1955 it pioneered the 'Container Route' moving containers by ship, train and truck. In spite of these innovations, it shut down as a fully integrated transport company in 1982, only to reopen as a tourist attraction in 1988.
In winter, Skagway has a population of 800, which swells to 2000 in the summer. The number of cruisers for 2016 is projected to be 791, 260 on a total of 29 ships, making 389 ports of call. The largest number of ports of call by any ship was 22, representing 22 weeks from mid-April to mid-September, the weather being unfavorable for the rest of the year. The primary attraction for cruisers in Skagway is the railway.  
Train negotiating a curve and a steep incline
The railway climbs to a height of 2,865 feet over a distance of 20.4 miles.
Bridal Veil Falls
There are many waterfalls fed by snow melt.
Steel Bridge
Constructed in 1901, the steel bridge was the  tallest cantilever bridge in the world. Since 1969, a replacement bridge has been used.
Skagway and Lynn  Canal in the distance
Lynn Canal is part of the inside passage of the Pacific Ocean.

The views from the railway in Jamaica are no less spectacular. The branch from Montego Bay to Anchovy climbs to a height of about 2000 ft in 7 miles.
Many cruise ship and other visitors would probably be interested in taking a scenic train ride as an alternative to travelling the whole way by road to several tourist attractions.
These include Croydon in the Mountains, near Catadupa:

YS Falls, 5 miles from Maggotty, is a nature-based attraction consisting of seven waterfalls, cascading into natural pools surrounded by lush gardens and magnificent trees. You can take a canopy ride above the falls as well as swimming in the pools.
YS Falls

One of the natural pools where you can swim at YS
In Maggotty itself is the Apple Valley Water Park, which is a popular venue for school visits and could be accessed by train from Kingston. 
Apple Valley Water Park
In Appleton, there is Appleton Rum Factory Tour.

Could the railway become financially viable by including 'Tourist Attraction' to its other functions, i.e. carrying bauxite, public transport, and transport of goods (the newly opened highway has not proved to be ideal for trucks carrying heavy loads as sections of it are too steep). 
Jamaica had an average of about 1.4 million cruise ship visitors to the ports of Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios in 2013 and 2014, and more are projected for 2016, in addition to 2 million stop-over visitors, making a total of 3.4 million, more than 4 times the number visiting Skagway. Of course, there are many more attractions available to tourists, all of whom would not be interested in taking a trip by rail. However, with proper maintenance of the railway and marketing it as an attraction, I think this is an opportunity which could be explored.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Learning Disorders - The Struggle is Real Part 3

This is the 3rd of 3 posts I am writing about a Symposium “Learning Disorders – the Struggle is Real” put on by the Association of Future Psychologists (AFP), a service club at the Western Campus of the University of the West Indies. In my first post I wrote about Dr. Ann Shaw-Salmon’s presentation on “Our Journey with ASTEP”; and in my second about Mr. Karl Watson’s talk about what the MOE is doing to address the needs of students with learning disorders. In my final post I examine the nature of some of these disorders as explained by Ms. Georgia Rose and Dr. Susaye Rattigan.
Before these two speakers, AFP showed a second video in which they asked students on campus:
“Should children with learning difficulties be in special schools?” Several students opined that they should be. 
“How would you feel if your child were in a class with a child with a learning disorder?” Students expressed the opinion that the child with a learning disorder would take a disproportionate amount of the teacher’s time.
“What steps would you take if your child had a learning disorder?” Students said that they would try to get the best possible help for their child.
          Ms. Georgia Rose is the coordinator of Undergraduate Psychology Programmes at UWIWC. She specializes in learning disorders and works at Cornwall Regional Hospital. She has an MA from UWI and is interested in developmental disorders. She addressed the questions raised in the students’ video and gave examples from her own experience. She referred to DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which offers a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. The focus of this symposium was on learning disorders, namely dyslexia (difficulty with reading), dysgraphia (difficulty with writing), dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers). However, these learning disorders don’t exist in isolation. A child who has difficulty learning to read is often labelled as ‘dunce’ by other children. He knows he’s not dunce in other respects, doesn’t know why he’s having this difficulty, but would prefer to be called ‘bad’ than ‘dunce’.
Andre, 15 year-old, grade 9, semi-literate (about grade 3), told Ms. Rose, “No matter how hard I try, I never seem to get it. Everything is a mess. Sometimes it look clear and another time me cannot mek it out … me rather be bad bwoy than dunce bwoy.” Hence, the learning disability gives rise to behavior problems. Parents are distressed when children are not learning and may punish them, even using corporal punishment.
The cause of learning disorders are thought to be abnormalities in the way the neurons connect to each other in the brain, or in the functioning of the chemicals in the brain. The result is that individuals have problems receiving, processing or communicating information in the same way as other children. The reasons for these abnormalities include biological, psychological and social conditions. Among the biological conditions are genetic causes, problems during pregnancy or birth, general medical conditions, seizures and nutrition. Psychological causes include exposure to early trauma; neglect; emotional, sexual and physical abuse. Social conditions include socioeconomic status and reduced access to interventions.

Statistics show that more boys than girls; and more children from the lower socioeconomic strata suffer from learning disabilities. Reading difficulty is the more prevalent disorder in the English speaking world. To me, this is not surprising, as so many rules of phonics cannot be applied. You pronounce ‘ough’ differently in each of the following words: dough, plough, through, rough and cough! Whereas in Spanish phonics can be relied on to decode words. The following idea was not mentioned in the Symposium, but it would probably help many Jamaican children to learn to read in Jamaican Creole, whose written form is entirely phonetic and whose grammar and syntax is familiar to the children.

Ms. Rose posed the questions, “Whose responsibility it is to provide education for children with learning disabilities? The public or private sector? Would we be prepared to pay more taxes for these children to be taught in special schools?” In regular schools, children with learning disabilities tend to be preyed upon, but it is more cost-effective to teach them in regular schools in pull-out classrooms for some of the time.
Labelling these children as disabled is unfortunate, as they are not unable, they are differently abled. Many dyslectics are gifted artists, singers (e.g. Harry Belafonte) and actors (e.g. Tom Cruise). Children’s author and book illustrator, Patricia Polacco, describes her own struggles with dyslexia in her book “Thank you, Mr. Falker” – the teacher who recognized her problem and helped her.  (It is known that 1 in 7 persons in the USA has some kind of learning disorder. ) Ms. Rose’s final appeal was that none of us should discriminate.

          Dr. Susaye Rattigan, a clinical psychologist, had an interactive session with us up and singing before she started her address. Her main theme was that we are all learn differently and that the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work. She reminded us that the term ‘Learning Disability’ doesn’t include those who have learning problems resulting from visual, hearing or motor handicaps, mental retardation, emotional disturbance or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage. However, a detailed interview with a psychologist is necessary for a diagnosis. Whatever the reasons for children’s failure to learn at school, we should be moving towards an empathetic understanding of children’s problems.
     Dr. Rattigan recounted the story of Thomas Edison, who, on his last day of formal schooling, was given a note which read, “Your son is an idiot. Keep him at home.” His mother told him that the letter said that he was too brilliant to be taught at that school and that she should home-school him, which she did.
     Dr. Rattigan reminded us of the quote attributed to Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This was to illustrate the idea that a learning disability is not a disability but a different ability.
          A change in environment may be needed. She gave the example of a little girl brought to her because she couldn’t talk, which was hardly surprising since she was brought up by a deaf-mute grandmother and a mother who barely spoke. In spite of reservations, the girl’s mother followed Dr. Rattigan’s advice to send her to school. A year later, they couldn’t stop her talking! There is a natural inclination of us all to learn, but we aren’t meant to be alike. We should teach in the way that a child wants to learn, whether that is through books, art, movement or any other medium. We were challenged to try to see the world as a dyslexic child would. A question and answer session followed Dr. Rattigan’s address.
I would like to thank the Association of Future Psychologists for putting on this symposium and inviting me to attend. I apologize for  taking so long to complete the blogs, but better late than never!