Ronald Thwaites | ‘Di madda dem doan get through’
It is eight last Friday morning near the bottom of Conrad Lane in central Kingston. There are about seven school-age infants and other children sitting with some women in the shade of the back wall of the great Kingston College, not far from the offices of the big security and movie theatre companies.
“Why them don’t gone to school?” I ask.
“Di madda dem doan get through wid anything for dem yet” is the reply from one of the adults. “Dem soon go. Leave a breakfast money fi dem eat something, nuh,” she continues. Near where they sit, the sound system on a trolley pounds out a lyrics about whose “pu—y fat an whose “c--ky strong”. The children are, indeed, learning.
In that one scene, repeated with minor differences in circumstances, affecting 20 per cent of the nation’s schoolchildren who are absent every day, is told the story of increasing poverty, decreasing social capital, and the cradling of low productivity and antisocial behaviour.
At this opening of the new school year, I am convinced that the social deficiencies affecting our children constitute the main constraint of an otherwise modestly adequate education system.
Last week again, elements in the teaching profession were lamenting the intense pressure in the classroom caused by poor conduct and social and material unreadiness. Their jobs are made doubly difficult, and the outcomes show it. Parents and teachers toss the responsibility between each other, to little avail.
In most schools, teaching the syllabus has already begun, even as many students and their parents, especially the new ones, are still poorly nourished and unaware of the essentials of successful classroom culture. The professionals are tired of telling us that the imperatives of emotional health, instilling appropriate values, and achieving home-school-community bonding require specially trained people not currently provided for in any Budget.
It is beyond doubt that children whose parents take keen interest in their education do better than those who struggle on their own. It is also proven that those young people who habitually attend Sabbath or Sunday school show better attitudes towards school and life than those who don’t.
So let us change those elements of our culture that are obstructing good upbringing.
Starting a new school year in the same old way will yield less than we need. Here are some affordable proposals that can be implemented immediately.
The National Parenting Commission and the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica must be strengthened, not only by modest additional funding, but by being offered ample access to the vast conventional and social-media platforms controlled and influenced by the State. Both have a crucial but as-yet-understated message to rivet into the Jamaican lifestyle. There ought to be a written covenant between each family and their child’s school that defines responsibilities.
NO truancy zones
It is very disappointing that despite accepting the importance of full attendance, nothing has been done so far to implement truancy zones, nor have any of the available trained social workers been engaged.
The taxpayers’ billions are being put to recruit thousands more police and soldiers, but not a dime towards providing the social reinforcement that alone will help prevent the need for more armaments.
Finally, this is to plead again for not only a meaningful increase in the PATH allocation for schoolers, but an enablement for principals and guidance counsellors to be able to enrol needy students in the programme without the horrid and dilatory bureaucracy that now obtains. School leaders must have the wherewithal to ensure that every hungry student in their school has enough to eat.
Obviously, much more needs to be done, but at least start with these measures. If even that were to happen, the situation of those children in central Kingston would be less likely.
And could the abundance of churches in every community see it as their mission to encourage and ensure that every child goes to school every day?
Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.