The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, PC, MP
Prime Minister of Jamaica
Manchester High School
January 12, 2024
Thank you, Principal Gabriel. Let me say how happy I am to be here with you today, to be able to share with you today. Now, I know that there is a little bit of rain coming, so I will be quick.
I want to tell you that there are two important things that I want to tell you today. The first thing is that you are the first generation of Jamaicans that in the last 50 years will be living in an economy that is growing. That means that the probability of you graduating from high school and getting a job in Jamaica is greater than 90 percent. All of you here have a greater than 90 percent chance of leaving school with all your certification and getting a job. That’s a different Jamaica that you will inherit than the Jamaica that existed for over 50 years ago. It means that you have to prepare for that Jamaica, but it is also a Jamaica where, when you inherit it, you will have to deal with violence.
So, two things are happening in our country; our economy is doing well, and you will get jobs, you will be able to fulfill all your dreams and aspirations. You will have income, you will be able to buy your car, buy your house, further your education, invest in your business. You don’t have to seek to migrate to live good in Jamaica but the quality of life that you will inherit, and you will be able to live is going to be affected by the level of violence in the society. Even in our schools, we’re seeing that level of violence affecting you from an early age.
Now, I was talking to your principal, and I said to him, Mr Principal, I have never heard of any behavioural challenges at this school. I said to him, maybe it’s because he has the name of an angel, but I am certain it is because you have teachers who love you above all else, teachers who care for your development. And in my brief interactions, I could tell just from a handshake and a look in the eye of the teachers, they care about their jobs. They care about you, and they are professional. You have good management of the school. And again, just from brief interaction and asking a few questions, I can tell that the school is well managed.
All schools in Jamaica have resource challenges and whenever I come to schools, the principals and teachers don’t miss a beat, so I heard the beat very well, you need an auditorium. And I am here to say to you that I now see the need for the auditorium so Principal Gabriel, your prayers will be answered. But as I look at all of you gathered here, all properly groomed, all very attentive, all with smiling faces; I am very reassured about the future of Jamaica.
Now, my job as your prime minister is not only to deal with the issues of today, but it is to deal even more so with the issues that will affect this country in the future. I think we have done a fairly good job in putting in place things that will ensure, as I’ve said earlier, that we will have a good economy. You are all critical part of that long-term success of our economy. You will be good workers. You will be good innovators. I’m sure amongst this group could be possibly the next Elon Musk, the next great innovator, the next great entrepreneur or could be, you know, the next Prime Minister of Jamaica, the next Principal Gabriel, the next MP Rhoda Crawford; the talent pool is right here. You are going to be the ones that will ensure the continued growth of the Jamaican economy, so I want you now to start having this mindset of growth. I want you to have a positive outlook on the future. I want you to believe that everything that you dream of can be achieved right here in Jamaica.
I know that every day you are bombarded on your phones with negative things about your country, that your minds are being shaped with negative thoughts. Today, I want you to look with optimism and a positive stance towards your future, you will have a positive future. But I want to return to the other part of this message and that is the message of peace in our society.
Even in our households, some of you here as students, you don’t have peace in your household. You have conflicts at home with your families, even in your classroom you may have conflict. We need to take a different approach as a people to solving our conflicts. We can’t use violence to solve our conflict.
Recently, I entertained some youngsters from a school, I believe it was in St. Elizabeth where they did a tremendously good deed, they carried one of their schoolmates to a hospital. He was beaten by a fellow schoolmate, and they lifted him up, walked with him to the hospital to ensure that he got treatment and I thought that was just such a good thing to do and I applauded them and acknowledged them for it. But last year, we had several incidents of young people injuring each other, even killing each other.
Just a few days ago, I read a very sad report of a 14-year-old, like many 14-year-olds here, he was shot and killed by the police and when I saw it, I immediately reached out to get an understanding of what exactly happened. How could a 14-year-old be killed in a shootout by the police? And I was very sad about it. I can’t comment on the circumstances, but I will say this to you, especially to the 14-year-old boys who are here, in Jamaica, 90%- well more than 90% of crimes committed particularly serious crimes, murders and shootings are by males. A significant percentage, I don’t have the exact figure, but I would venture to say that more than 50% of the shootings and murders are by males under 24.
The other side of the equation is also true; that males, young males are predominantly the victims of crimes, so we have a problem with resolving conflicts. We have a problem with violence, but we also have a problem with our young men in conflict and using violence and being the victims of violence.
So, if I were to speak to the nation about this problem, where is the best place to start? Where are our young males? Where should we be teaching people how to treat with conflict? Where should we be talking about peace? And I love it because I’m saying school, but Mr. Principal, your students are very smart, they’re saying start in the homes.
I’m so happy that you have said that because I just met the PTA rep who is on your school board and that tells me something that this school is very much connected with the parents, that the PTA rep would be here, very important message and symbol. I didn’t want to go too much, Mr Principal, into the connection between the home and the school. Governments usually try not to get too involved in regulating households, even how they discipline children but the social problems that we have, have become so challenging; they are now at crisis proportion that the government has to be direct and instrumental in dealing with this problem of violence in a frontal way.
We are going to have to incorporate the schools now to deliberately teach in the curriculum how to manage conflict and it’s going to have to be a curriculum subject. When I was Minister of Education, we established something called the National Parenting Commission and that was precisely because we understood that there has to be a solid link between the home and the school. What is being taught in the schools must also be reinforced in the home. So yes, the two-pronged approach, we will be dealing with the schools directly about treating with conflict, and about dealing with violence, and building peace. And through the National Parenting Support Commission, we will also be carrying this message to parents to see a transformation of our society.
So, on the one hand, I see here the productive force of Jamaica, you are going to be the ones to inherit a properly run and structured economy and you are going to grow it. You are going to create the labour force that will attract the investment that will make Jamaica into a first world country. But on the other hand, we need good citizens. We need people who will respect the law. We need people who will respect order. We need people who will become good parents. We need people who take a peaceful stance in resolving conflict. And so, as we have worked on the economy and building the productivity of the country, we must now work on the other element of things, we must not work on the person, the human being.
And therefore, I’m here today to tell you of this two-pronged approach. We’re building our economy. You will inherit a good economy, but now we have to build our people. We have to deal with our social and emotional intelligence. We want you to be peaceful people. We want you to be pro social people. We want you to be kind, loving, and gentle. We want Jamaica to be the place of choice to live, work, do business, but we want it also to be the place of choice for you to raise your families and retire in paradise.
God bless you and I’m so very proud of your school.