Get them in school - Thwaites
If a child misses school for three days in one week without a reasonable excuse, the school principal is now obliged to visit the student's home with a view to ensuring his regular attendance.
Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites said the directive is part of a new policy aimed at improving attendance.
"We have a problem," Thwaites said at a face-to-face forum involving top functionaries of the People's National Party (PNP) and residents of Kingston and St Andrew at Campion College on Thursday night.
"Right now, our attendance rate in the schools is running at about 85 per cent. That is not good enough. It means that we are losing about 20 per cent of our instructional time," Thwaites said.
The minister, who was responding to a concern raised by a member of the audience about high
levels of school dropouts, said the education ministry has a "new policy and we are insisting on it".
"Any child who has been absent for three days without excuse, the principal or the guidance counsellor must go and get that child. We have also employed social workers in our educational regions who can reach out to the community where parents often need support," Thwaites added.
He said further that the Government is prepared to play a role in trying to remedy the situation that has resulted in the absence of the student from school.
"If it gets to the point where the child is chronically out of school, then we must join up with Minister [Peter] Bunting and the community policing in that area, not to arrest the parent, unless they are hopelessly delinquent, but rather to make sure that we get that child back in school," Thwaites advised.
He argued that even if the child is not successful at examinations, simply being in school means that it is more likely that he is going to be an orderly citizen and will avoid crime.
To nods of approval from the crowd, Thwaites proclaimed that there is no mystery about what is needed to tackle social problems.
"It takes community resolve and political will to make it happen. It is part of the political mandate of any progressive government to help improve parenting, and by so doing, improve the level of outcomes and the improvement of the society. It worries our party leader and every one of us that the last Survey of Living Condition says that 40 per cent of children say they either don't know who their father is or have no effective relationship with him," Thwaites said.
Speaking at the same meeting, Bunting, the national security minister, said that there is a plethora of research that has concluded that children with absentee fathers end up being worst off than their peers.
He said that the ministry has started a parenting campaign out of a recognition that dealing with crime requires tackling root causes such as poor parenting rather than the symptoms.
"The problems with violent crimes that we have in Jamaica cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. It requires an engaged citizenry; it requires us to understand the root causes of crimes, and not only to be addressing the symptoms," Bunting said.