By Themba Mkhize
‘Tis the season of reflection.
This has been a year about which much can be said. The Washington Post asked its readership to provide a single word or phrase to describe the year 2020. The top three were:
Unsurprisingly, 2020 is being remembered primarily for its bleak occurrences and the resulting displeasures we endured. The records will show several untimely deaths, the ugly, stubborn faces of racism and classism, mass protests, a pandemic, severe wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes and other dramatic events.
Some of the outcomes for which we can be grateful find their source in our collective responses to these unideal situations, especially to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When COVID-19 forced Jamaican schools closed, the questions about next steps were aplenty. Of particular concern was the fate of students who were scheduled to sit external exams, especially those hosted by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
When approval was given for CXC examinations to be administered in summer of 2020, some schools indicated that they were not ready. Their students had not yet completed the syllabus and their facilities were not yet retrofitted for the safe administration of examinations. Scrutiny was high and the critical opinions shared by many helped to shape the policies which were eventually developed and the resources amassed.
Despite the roadblocks, within two months a lot of the necessary resources were gathered and distributed. Policies were implemented to ensure better safety of students during the examination period. Stakeholders and good-willed people donated resources to help students prepare. Through the joint efforts of a great many of us, we were able to avoid foregoing or further delaying CXC exams, which would have been a much greater disruption to the education system than we had already seen.
I am happy that the students benefited from the opportunity to earn certification, continue their education and, in some instances, matriculate.
Work From Home Arrangements
Work From Home Arrangements were a key part of Jamaica’s early response to COVID-19. The government issued instructions for organizations to review their operations and allow all “non-essential workers” (workers performing functions which could be executed from home) to work from home.
This was a major shift in the way we work. Though many organizations have returned to traditional operations, our temporary mass transition into Work From Home Arrangements showed us that it was possible for our workforce to be more agile. It also showed us weaknesses in the operations of some organizations, such as the lack of comprehensive information technology solutions to facilitate remote work.
Flexible-work policies have been in place in Jamaica, but to a large extent, they have been underutilized. Even now, that remains the case. One would hope that with greater exposure to what is possible, more organizations will examine their operations and maximize the potential value of both flexible and remote work arrangements.
As the Jamaican proverb goes, “Cow never know the use a him tail til’ him lose it.” On a logical level, it is easy to acknowledge the value which medical practitioners, sanitation workers, security forces and other critical public–facing personnel add to our lives. Still, it is also easy to take them for granted.
Even now, I do not know if we can truly empathize with these workers when they face their most daunting job demands. But what is certain is that we see more clearly just how much we need each, how fragile our societies are without them, and how much respect they deserve.
It was very pleasant to see citizens from all countries rallying around and offering support to these frontline workers. This generation will grow with that knowledge of the extraneous work frontline workers performed to keep us from facing the worst outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, which we should not forget easily.
We are Strong
When borders closed, we had nowhere except Jamaica. At that point, most of us had a considerably greater dependence on local agencies and institutions.
Seasonal migrant workers could not leave to work abroad. Students were not sure if and when they would be able to attend schools in foreign countries. Citizens were not sure if and when they would be able to get treatment in foreign hospitals. Even businesses and the government were unsure about the security of goods ordered from foreign suppliers, with larger countries hogging critical supplies.
The pandemic reminded us that Jamaicans must remain committed to building a Jamaica which is strong, even in situations when we are alone. We were also able to prove to ourselves that we can manage to do fairly well, despite our size and resources. Even then, we can still do better.
While opinions may differ throughout the population on specific policies, compliance with and the timing of certain decisions, all we have to do is look at the situation in richer, developed countries to see that we have been doing a fairly good job at managing the pandemic.
The lesson for this year is that even when we are vulnerable, we are a strong and capable people. It is left to us to do our best as we continue to secure greater gains from our potential.
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