Viviene Kerr | It still takes a village - Support services for parents in meeting the challenges of the new norm, a parental perspective
The COVID-19 pandemic brought to the fore the role of the village in raising children. Educational institutions were the first set of businesses to be ordered closed. The fear of children dying from the novel coronavirus swept the world like wildfire. Many schools tried to offer classes online with varied levels of success. The results? Many children have fallen behind academically, and teachers and parents must now find creative ways of getting them back on track.
What should you do if you find yourself in this situation?
1. ASSESS YOUR SITUATION IN RELATION TO THE THREAT
• Be courageous. Parents all over the world are having similar problems. You are not alone and help is available.
• As the new year begins, assessments will be done to ascertain the learning gaps that were created by the sudden transition to online learning.
• If your child has fallen behind, don’t panic, get help. Accept the facts, seek advice on how to fix the problem and take action immediately.
2. GET HELP FOR YOUR CHILD
I have spoken to many parents who got frustrated and gave up the fight for their children’s right to a good education. My advice to those parents continues to be, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try again another way’. The lessons on resilience that you have learnt and seek to teach your children must now be put in practice. Learn about and use the protocols in place within the education system to get help for your child.
• If your child’s teacher is uncooperative, contact his/her supervisor.
• If you get no results, or only receive a part of the solution you seek, go higher.
• If the school is not responsive, contact the Ministry of Education’s regional office.
• If they fail, contact the head office.
Your child’s future is too important to be abandoned. Seek out every opportunity to get all the help you need for your child.
3. RESPOND TO THE STRATEGIES BEING IMPLEMENTED BY SCHOOLS IN RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC
• You need to develop a family response plan. This will involve an understanding of the measures being implemented at your child’s school. Think of ways in which each member of the family can work together to achieve their various goals.
• Will your child be expected to stay at home some days?
• How do you plan to ensure that assignments are done, that he or she is safely supervised while you are at work?
• Is there a relative, neighbour, friend or church sister/brother who you can trust to assist your child with his or her schoolwork? Is there a childcare centre close to your home or workplace? Is there a library nearby? Can your workplace provide support? Think community, and while you do, think safety.
• If your child is expected to continue school online, think Wi-Fi. Data will not allow your child to access all the sessions, download apps and submit assignments.
• Get a printer, laptop/tablet for your child. Smartphones will not be able to effectively fulfil school requirements.
THE ROLE OF PARENT-TEACHER ASSOCIATION IN RESPONDING TO THE STRATEGIES BEING IMPLEMENTED BY SCHOOLS IN RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC
• I have been asking the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica to lobby for the removal of custom duties and other taxes associated with the importation/purchase of tablets and laptops.
• At the school and regional levels of the PTA, the call continues for the purchase and timely distribution of tablets and laptops for students on schools’ welfare programmes.
• PTAs need to arrange sessions to teach parents how to respond/cope with the changes while staying on the right side of the law. Child neglect is a form of child abuse and cannot be facilitated.
• Parents need to create safe community spaces and centres for children to do their assignments.
• They need to carpool, create pooled childcare and pickup services.
• The care packages being provided by PTAs and other entities need to include back-to-school supplies too.
THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH/COMMUNITY IN RESPONDING TO THE STRATEGIES BEING IMPLEMENTED BY SCHOOLS IN RESPONSE TO THE PANDEMIC
I call upon the church to:
• How can the church assist students who will be asked to stay at home, or work remotely without the necessary resources?
• Can the church host extra classes in their church halls or worship centres? Can the church rent/lend the tents in their possession?
• Are there unemployed/underemployed youths in your congregations who can tutor/supervise those still in school?
THINK YOUTH ENGAGEMENT
• Many of our members may have done the Primary Exit Profile or Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate exams. Can they provide tutorials for those preparing for those external examinations?
• Communities need to develop databases of parents with skills that can be employed to provide an income for families which are affected by lay-offs and unemployment.
UBER-LIKE CHILDCARE SERVICE – AN INNOVATIVE RESPONSE
I have been encouraging the development of an Uber-like childcare service with or without educational support.
HOW WOULD IT WORK?
• HEART and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency could develop a short course on childcare services to be staged in churches and underutilised community facilities.
• Unemployed parents/drivers would pick up and drop off children. Of course, background checks and clean police records would be mandatory.
• For the elderly and persons with comorbidities who need to stay at home, caregivers may be provided for them as well.
• Create senior citizens communities with assisted-living homes, creating jobs for persons interested in becoming certified nursing assistants. Yes, ‘It still takes a village to raise a child’. We need to provide psychological support services for those struggling to cope with the proposed changes in the educational system.
• During the initial phase of the pandemic, The Caribbean Graduate School of Theology partnered with the Ministry of Health and Wellness by providing psychologists to man their hotlines, but that collaboration ended in September.
• Remember, we have the option to sit and complain, to panic and cast blame;
• To embrace the African proverb ... ‘It takes a village to raise a child’.
Let’s be wise, and remember the words of Dale Carnegie:
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Dr Viviene Kerr is a counselling psychologist