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Most adults know the feeling that comes when you have an assignment to do, and a good amount of time to get it done, but somehow time has been allowed to slip, and the deadline is fast approaching. In some cases, it’s clear that doom is just around the corner: you have 30 oranges to peel, each takes 20 seconds, and you have only five minutes left. You can only peel half of the amount. Let’s be brutal, and accept that time was wasted and really you’ve shown a clear inability to set priorities properly.

Those adults who are parents or often with children may be familiar with this situation when it comes to school homework. The child says he or she has three things to do and they should take an hour. The child comes home at 3pm, then eats for half an hour, then decides to go and play with some toys, or read a book. Five o’clock comes along and you hear nothing. You check on your child. She’s in the bathroom with green moose in her hair, and trying to use a shower head to rinse it out. The mousse just keeps foaming. An hour later, the mousse is all out. It’s now six o’clock. The child goes to the school bag and looks for the homework folder. You hear some frantic shrieking and some loud noises as books are pulled off shelves and draws are opened and shut. You hear a grunted “I can’t find my homework!” You take another sip of coconut water and turn the page of the book you had been reading. “I CAN’T find my homework!” now comes with more volume and clear tone of panic. You muster the energy to go to the sound. A little conversation ensues, ending with your saying “It’s now 6:30 and we’re not heading back to school to find your homework.” Tears follow and the evening descends into a sort of chaos, with a sobbing child being tucked into bed and kissed goodnight. A piece of the adult brain is thinking “I hope you’ve learned a lesson.”

It’s a good hope. Of course, no lesson might have been learned.

20130903-124743.jpgThere shouldn’t have been any problems and things ended up much worse than should have been the case. You know what went wrong, but trying to point that out and discuss it with the child ends with raised voices and more tears. You leave it alone, but keep on giving the little reminders about timing, and planning, and checking, and preparing. For years, and years, and years. How does the child turn out? I wont go there, yet.

Those images of the oranges or the child and its homework make me think of Jamaica and its attempts to deal with a range of events: eventually, time takes control and things either don’t get done partly, or done at all.

Public schools started their new year yesterday, and the Minster of Education mentioned that it was a “smooth start” for most schools.

20130903-130217.jpgThat seems generous given talk of incomplete schools and lack of adequate furniture in some schools, as well as awkward issues about payments of supplementary fees, higher bus and taxi fares, struggles to get text books, etc.

This morning, there was a report that only about half of the 40,000 graduates from high school and universities this year would be able to find jobs in the private sector. So, time spent on education for successful students seems to hold the prospect of limited employment opportunities, for half of them. We also have to accept that those who don’t succeed in education are more likely to fall into the unemployed heap.

So, what has Jamaica been doing? Idling away its time to prepare for the employment of its students? We know that the general economy has not been capable of absorbing new potential employees–hence, unemployment at 16 percent and youth employment around 38 percent. One hears little beyond the hope that big projects will come along to offer work. Yes, there’s some vague talk about ramping up ‘growth sectors’ such as information technology and communication. But, Jamaica has dug itself into a deep economic hole and keeps digging.

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That we haven’t prepared very well is clear. We keep letting time slip by without using it to prepare well. We end up on our tush, too often. When you keep digging in a hole, it’s really hard to climb out.