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High number of kids at risk

On an annual basis, the Students Support Services Unit of the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development, may see up to 1,000 students who are having challenges or deemed to be at risk.

Senior Psychologist at the Unit, Juanita Brathwaite, revealed this yesterday following a press briefing at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.

Noting that the statistics, predicted that between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of students would have some kind of challenge, regionally and globally, Brathwaite said the ministry estimated that there may be approximately 5,000 children in the entire school system with challenges that include learning disabilities, indiscipline, bullying and social issues.

Pointing out, however, that there had not been any formal research into the matter, she added: “Anecdotally, reports coming not just from Student Services but also from other social services agencies basically corroborate these figures.”

It was acknowledged that Barbados was in the process of examining how such research could be undertaken within the school system to arrive at a “more accurate figure”.

Meanwhile, motivational speaker from 20/20 Enterprises in Atlanta, Georgia, Keith Browne, cautioned against focusing on the 5,000 students considered at risk. Browne, who confessed to being labelled at risk in his early childhood, said: “All 100 per cent of them are at risk, because in the times in which we are living and the negatives that they are exposed to in the media and on the Internet, social media, social programming and social networking, all of them are at risk to something.

“And, if we just focus on the 10 to 15 per cent and outcast them, we’re going to miss the others; we’re gonna miss that gifted child who has not been labelled at risk … [the one who may say], ‘No one pays any attention to me so I’m gonna cut up [myself] in class. I’m making straight ‘As’ but I’m still gonna cut up’ … I think it’s very important that in Barbados and globally we understand that if you are a young person on the globe today, you are at risk.”

Sociology Professor at New York University, Dr. Pedro Noguera, stressed the importance of understanding the underlying problems for children who are at risk and the need to identify the symptoms. He contended that students who were more likely to be at risk were those who were products of inter-generational poverty, children of teen mothers, substance abusers and, increasingly within the Caribbean, young males.

Noguera noted that because the schools were so focused on preparing children for tests, it was difficult to create the space in the curriculum to pay attention to these other needs.

“This is where I think policy needs to be adjusted to reflect priorities and the needs of the children in the schools,” he said, as he commended Barbados for its strong educational support and its inaugural conference which is aimed at arriving at strategies to address the needs of at risk students. (BGIS)

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