Sacrificial lamb to the slaughter
One of the problems encountered with the way we tend to organise curricula in schools is that we teach them by subjects. We then expect the learners to make the linkages between what they learn in the different subjects and how the knowledge acquired relates to their reality and the outside world. However, few can make those connections.
One way that we have addressed this problem is for curriculum development teams to create 'integrated studies' which use themes to weave together concepts from different subjects. This enables the exploration of issues and concerns which cannot be addressed in a subject-centred curriculum.
In the same way, there are critical societal problems which cannot be addressed by one agency alone and requires several agencies working in collaboration to address them. Absenteeism in schools is one such problem. But the school operations section in the Ministry of Education cannot by itself address the problem.
The experiences of the team from the School of Education at the UWI, which provided the Ministry of Education with technical assistance in a project for primary schools with low attendance, underscores that it requires input from various sectors: the community development officers and area coordinators of the Social Development Commission, the National Parent Teachers Association, agencies from the Ministry of Agriculture, such as the Jamaica 4-H Clubs,the Jamaica Agricultural Association; the Ministry of Health, since health issues keep some children away from school; and the Ministry of Labour, as in many instances children are kept from school by their parents as they need them to help to sell goods in the market or to pick coffee.
Instances of child abuse by parents unearthed in the research by the UWI team underscores the need for the involvement of the Child Development Agency. Another demand on this beleaguered agency!
The outgoing CEO called for a multi-sectoral approach to deal with the problems faced by our children. Certainly this is the way to go. With limited resources all around, we have to find ways of pooling our resources, human and otherwise, to address these critical problems in our society, whether it be absenteeism or the problems at the root of the Armadale tragedy.
Coordinating strategies needed
But, urging various sectors to work together will not be achieved by fiat. We need to learn from the experience in education.
A coordinating body needs to be established (if it does not exist already) to bring together these various sectors, a body that will not only plan the coordinating strategies, but will monitor and evaluate their implementation. If we do not take such action, we will be forever bringing sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. And, after we have vilified and degraded them for not being like Atlas, who was able to carry the world on his shoulder, without help, the problems for which they have been slaughtered will still remain.
Shame on those in our society who held the knife to the lamb's throat!
I am, etc.,
Prof. ZELLYNE JENNINGS-CRAIG
School of Education,