The Schools Welfare Department is aiming to ensure that school-age children are in their learning institutions during the day by having major campaigns every month in each region to round up truant students, according to new head of the department Reverend Banmattie Ram.
In addition, the department will engage their parents in dialogue to regularize the children’s school attendance.
Ram, speaking at a press conference yesterday at the Ministry of Education, said her department wants to make certain that the nation’s children are well equipped for the future by gaining a sound education.
According to Ram the department has received a number of reports about children’s behaviour in schools and they have investigated some and are working with teachers to equip them to deal with certain situations.
High on the department’s list of priorities is the training of its officers, some of whom have only been hired recently as they are the ones who would have to deal with children and their parents, including those in very difficult circumstances. Late last year some 19 new officers were hired and five more were taken on last week.
“We have what we call ongoing training for officers. From time to time we will bring them in or go to the different regions and assist them with some training, especially to deal with certain issues that children [are] being confronted with in schools,” Ram said.
Parents and community members are being asked to join in the campaign against truancy but Ram pointed out that her department’s major responsibility is to ensure that children attend school.
Parents can be charged
While the law provides for parents to be charged for not sending their children to school, Ram noted that there have been few cases of such prosecution. The department’s first attempt is to work with the parents and find out what problems they are facing that may prevent them from sending their children to school.
And the children who are picked up are only released into the custody of their parents or guardians, Ram said. If it is found that they are having difficulties in outfitting their children for classes they are directed to agencies or organisations that provide school uniforms and other material for school.
Parents are also issued with letters for the regional education department if their children never attended school and then the respective department would assist in getting the child enrolled in school.
The department also makes follow-up visits to schools to determine that the children are attending school, while some parents are given ‘warning’ letters informing them that they could be prosecuted if their children are not sent to school.
There have been some cases of parents being charged in the hinterland and their children sent to the New Opportunity Corps (NOC) at Suddie, Essequibo.
Issue of drugs
Meanwhile, regarding the issue of children being found in possession of marijuana Ram was quick to point out that only two cases were found and they were on the East Coast. She said while the officers in Georgetown were trained to deal with issues involving students and drugs, the East Coast did not have any trained officers until recently.
She said they have explained to new officers that if children are found with marijuana in schools they should not just allow the matter to remain in school but they must report it immediately to the police.
“It [possession of marijuana] is not a major thing but it is something that came up and they didn’t know how to handle it,” Ram said. She said the officers have been going into schools and talking to students about the consequences of being in possession of drugs and stressing the benefits of having a good education. “We tell them that we don’t want them ending up in jail,” she said. The department has also approached the narcotics division of the Guyana Police Force to urge that officers go into schools and talk to students.
Referring to the issue of children sniffing glue for a high at the Waramadong school, Ram said the department had collaborated with UNICEF and a team went into the area and counselled the children but none of them was picked up by the police. She said they have made other visits to the area and not only spoken to the children but also the teachers.
In relation to private schools, Ram said they don’t visit private schools unless their assistance is sought and if parents complain about corporal punishment officers would go into the school and speak to the director.
According to Ram in 2008 three campaigns were held in Georgetown by her department and some 89 students were picked up while in Region 7 some 22 children were detained during three campaigns. Only one campaign was held in Region 10 and 15 children were picked up while in Region 5 there were some eight campaigns and 203 students were picked up by officers.
Region 6 saw five campaigns and 276 children were picked up and Region 3 had one major campaign and 87 students were picked up.