A bread and butter issue

In a report published in this newspaper yesterday about the lack of a cook at the Port Kaituma Secondary School, which is a boarding school, we quoted a single parent as saying that she might be forced to remove her 13-year-old daughter from the school if the situation continued, though she did not want to do so because the child was the first of her five children to attend secondary school. The parent, Ms Patricia Edwards, said she was finding the situation to be financially draining. “She don’t want to come home. I explained to her that I can’t afford it,” the mother said.

While Ms Edwards did not give the ages of her other four children, the fact that she mentioned that her daughter is the first to access secondary education indicates that some, if not all, of them might be older. It would be easy for Ms Edwards to remove her 13-year-old daughter from school and have her otherwise occupied, especially given the current crisis at the school. Ms Edwards is not taking the easy way out. She understands the value of educating her daughter, even though as she said, she is in a tough position financially and sometimes works for a month in the ‘backdam’ to provide for her children. But for Ms Edwards, her daughter’s education has become a bread and butter issue.

The World Bank’s flagship report, ‘World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development’, which was officially launched on September 19 last, had indicated that according to data compiled, female enrolment both at the secondary and university levels has outstripped that of males in the Caribbean and Latin America. It said this tipping of the scales to the distaff side has raised new concerns about male underachievement. But it also noted that female gaps remained, particularly among indigenous populations and disadvantaged girls. Mentioning the link between poverty and education, the report noted that higher incomes help close the gender gap in education but often social norms surrounding housework and caring among other things serve to perpetuate the gender disparity.

The situation at the Port Kaituma school is an example of how a disadvantaged girl (Ms Edwards’s daughter) could lose her chance of gaining a secondary education. Reports received by this newspaper revealed that there were once three cooks employed at the school. One resigned and one was sent off on retirement. Left to shoulder the burden of preparing three meals a day for 54-odd children, the third cook fell ill and then decided not to return. One would think that this would have indicated to the education authorities in the region that there was a crisis, but apparently not. The head teacher was forced to leave her administrative duties and turn to the kitchen, to prepare at least one meal a day, or see the children starve. The dorm matron tried to assist her but was ordered not to.

The situation was allowed to fester for two weeks, until a public-spirited citizen, who also tried to get the authorities to act, brought it to the attention of this newspaper. But even in the midst of this, when the regional chairman was contacted by this newspaper, the response was that officials were “trying” to source a replacement cook – not two, even though it is obvious that the job is onerous for a single person. There also seemed to be no urgency towards resolving the issue.

Surely this school has a PTA. And even if it doesn’t, are there no concerned parents, members of the community who could be called on to volunteer to prepare the meals on a temporary basis? If children are not properly fed, then learning will not take place.

Ms Edwards said that if the situation was not remedied in a hurry she would be forced to remove her daughter as she could not afford to send her any more money. What if she never sent her back? What about the classes the child would miss as a result of being away from school?

It is unlikely that Ms Edwards is the only parent facing dire straits. Yet it would appear that the thought of parents removing their children from the school rather than have them starve, does not alarm officials. They have not given thought, it would appear, to the impact their inaction could have on the community.

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