Gleaner Editors' Forum | Dunce & dangerous - UWI finds intelligent high-school dropouts leading illiterate youths in August Town
A combination of smart, high-school dropouts and barely literate unemployed and youths provide a dangerous cocktail for much of the violence which has ravaged the historic St Andrew community of August Town, which is a stone's throw from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus.
Social scientist at the UWI, Dr Olivine Burke, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum examining the Caribbean Policy Research Institute study on the reasons for the murder-free 2016 in August Town that the high level of illiteracy in the community has played a part in the frequent outbreak of violence in the area.
She said the university has engaged the residents of August Town using a multi-pronged approach of education, health, entrepreneurship, sports and culture, skills training and crime and violence. These areas were identified as critical after a conference more than a decade ago.
"A Social Development Commission report showed that illiteracy was more than 60 per cent in the community, unemployment was high, and it had very poor relationships. So we used that wide scope, engaging the community in dialogue.
"In fact, the approach actually came out of a conference that was held in 2007. The areas were identified as needed for intervention in order that we could move towards what we considered reduction in crime and violence," Burke told the forum.
She said the high level of illiteracy made the prospects of reasoning dimmer.
"Naturally, when persons are illiterate, they have less chances of reasoning. You do not reach them as you would reach somebody who is literate ... we will not see what we are putting in within this generation. It will take years of unlearning to relearn and then institutionalise," added Burke.
She noted that many of those who were the leaders in the community, the dons, were high-school dropouts from both traditional and new secondary schools in the area.
"They are bright people, smart and they have good potential. So what we are looking at, through our programme, is to build the capacity of persons so that they can take over in two or so generations the leadership of community, in order that you can transform it," said Burke.
A scholarship programme for the vulnerable in the community has educated more than 50 students, graduated more than 40, including four with first class honours, and a number with upper second class honours in different disciplines.
"Now, consider if you had not arrested these potential early, the mayhem that they could have caused," added Burke.
She said the approach by the university to cauterise incidents had to be structured.
"We looked at a coordinated structured approach, working along directly with the community - it was Kenneth Wilson who was our community liaison person at the time and we did not just look at crime and violence because there were other social issues that directly caused the crime and violence.
"In concentrating on crime and violence, you would be losing the other persons who are vulnerable," Burke told Gleaner editors and reporters.
She said the UWI always had hands and feet in August Town, working under the slogan 'Integrating Communities, Transforming Lives'.