In our Tuesday edition this week, we reported on ‘Operation Care’ an ongoing anti-truancy campaign that is carried out at irregular periods by the Ministry of Education’s School’s Welfare Services. Region Six (East Berbice/Corentyne) is constantly targeted for ‘surprise raids’ because from all indications, attendance at school is low in that area. But not just by children; teachers, particularly at the primary level, have poor attendance and punctuality records, which one trusts the ministry will also address.
Poverty was the major reason the children were absent from school. However, there were in some instances, also other factors such as domestic violence, substance abuse and just plain recalcitrance as a result of ignorance or indiscipline or both. In many instances too, the children had not only just stopped attending school, reports of some of them failing examinations and being unable to read point to long-term absences.
The parents who showed up to have their children released after they were detained by the welfare officers for not being in school during school hours pleaded poverty and the inability to cope. In one particular case, a mother of seven confessed that she had stopped sending her children to school after her husband became physically incapacitated and was unable to provide for the family. The school’s head teacher confirmed that this was indeed the case. Yet, no one did anything to help.
One would have thought that the natural progression in this instance would have been to put this mother in contact with social services as she obviously had no idea where to turn for help. This family should have been in receipt of government assistance and appeals could have been made to any of a number of non-governmental organizations operating in Berbice so that interventions could have been made to secure the children’s access to education. As it is, no one was able to connect the dots – not the school, not the neighbourhood council, or the religious or community development groups. This points to poor or no networking between these institutions and welfare services. We would dread to believe that it was because no one cared. To compound the injustice the hapless mother, who confessed that she herself had never attended school was reprimanded. According to the report, she was told of the laws governing children and warned that they could be placed in the care of the state.
These children and others in similar positions would have lost crucial days, perhaps weeks of schooling as a result and have been branded truants. While in fact, a truant is a child who stays away from school without permission, these children by dint of not being provided with the wherewithal to attend school and not being taken to school, have their parents’ permission to be absent even if the permission is not verbally given, and in some cases it is.
During last month, at the West Ruimveldt Primary School as part of Education Month activities, the School’s Welfare Services presented certificates to 18 public schools in the Georgetown Education District where students attained 95% or more attendance during the last academic year in keeping with the theme for Education Month: ‘Schools Attendance and Punctuality: Keys to Education Success.’ The ‘grand ceremony’ was held at the West Ruimveldt school because it recorded the highest attendance rate. Yet, many of the children attending West Ruimveldt school are from the surrounding south Georgetown neighbourhoods where poverty and similar issues that are found in Region Six exist. Perhaps there is something the relevant authorities are just not doing right with regard to Region Six and this must be addressed and soon.