Keisha Hill, Sunday Gleaner Writer
The Jamaican society has been experiencing a steady decline in the standard of family life and this is having far-reaching effects not only on the academic achievement of children, but on their total behaviour.
Dr Ralph Thompson, veteran educator and education advocate, addressing a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum, says the problem stems from the absence of a nuclear family, which he says is critical for the early stages of a child's development.
Thompson says an increasing number of sibling, visiting relationship and single parent families have replaced the original family structures. As is expected, these new family types lack the support and assistance in parenting and cultural socialisation, which were traditionally present in the nuclear and extended family.
"For the children, the lack of a father figure can be disturbing in their socialisation. The problem is neither uptown nor downtown. It is right across the board. There are just too many mothers out there playing the single-parent role," Thompson said.
Many single-parent households face specific social and economic challenges for both the parent and the children. About 45 per cent of all Jamaican households are female headed. Female-headed households, according to 2002 data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica, also have a larger number of children and adult females, but have a lower per capita consumption than those headed by males.
Also as reported by Princeton sociologist, Sara McLanahan, children from father-absent homes manifest a number of internalising and externalising problem behaviours, including sadness and depression, delinquency, aggression, sex role difficulties, early initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy, as well as poor social and adaptive functioning and low self-esteem.
Thompson says as a result, school functioning is also affected with poorer performance on academic and cognitive tests, school disciplinary problems, higher school absenteeism and dropout rates and lower occupational attainment.
The change in family structure, Thompson says, is also seeing an increasing number of teenage parents who are not adequately trained and prepared for the task of motherhood.
"Too many children are having children, so they lack the requisite knowledge and information to pass on to their children. In some cases, by the time some of these girls reach 15, they already have two children. At this age, they do not know how to raise children because they are children themselves," Thompson said.
CEO of Family Life Ministries, Dr Barry Davidson, in his research, says the father-absent child scores lower on the IQ scale than the father-present child, which might make the difference between primary school and high school or high school and university.
"Those brought up under pro-longed father absence were different in mathematical skills and lower in verbal skills. Many crimes are committed by boys who believe they are omnipotent because they never had their fathers' limiting restraining influence," the report said.