COLUMN – How many more kids will we lose?
On and on we go. Day after day, month turns into month, and the issues we have across the nation of Barbados continue to become systemic and entrenched cancers that infect the major organs of the island. The lack of effective leadership across the various establishments continues to generate institutional decline, and our collective unwillingness to address problems cannot be good for the country.
This week, some of us took to various social media sites to comment on the stories coming out on the loss of a 12-year-old Barbadian child. I am really not sure how Barbadians can be so incensed by this death when we live in a country where we know the major child care agencies are not effective enough in executing their mandates.
None of us can say we did not know, because a few weeks ago there was extensive “long talk” about the issues in juvenile justice, and what we had and what we needed to have. We were apprised of the challenges of at-risk children when the Attorney General lamented a number of shortcomings in the way juvenile rehabilitation and offending were dealt with in the island.
The conference came and the conference went, and the help needed for children who are facing severe challenges in school and in households is still as far as the east is
from the west.
The simple reality is that for our perception of at-risk children to change, we must first alter our view of children. The way we regard the role of the Minister of Education, the education officer, the principal must all change if we are serious about creating child-centred environments.
The systems that we have –– from the way we admit children to primary school, to the way we certify them at school-leaving must all change. Privacy, and who should have it, and for what reasons are issues we must all re-evaluate if we are to create a process that is conducive to the success of the Barbadian child.
There are not enough people in the leadership of the educational system in Barbados who have been able to change their world view of what a child is, to be able to create a safe environment for children first, and then at-risk children specifically. The usual attitude of management in the educational system is that children are not to be trusted, and they are not to be believed.
If a child complains for a teacher, or another child, or of even feeling unwell, there is always some circumstance that makes the child untrustworthy. More, anybody who dares to defend a child is deemed problematic.
If a parent dares to take interest in the school life of a child, that parent is classified as a troublemaker. If the parent does not take interest in the child, then the child becomes a target to be told how much no one pays attention to him/her.
Because the system surrounding promotions of children, acceptance of children into primary schools, and review appraisals for performance of principals and teachers are all weak, it leaves room for children in schools to be systematically victimized. It can, and does happen.
Every year, for instance, there is a shrouded system that results in the placements of four-year-olds into primary schools. Consistently, we see special young ones with access to certain schools, while children with neighbouring addresses are denied attending the same schools. Sometimes we complain, but nothing is ever done about the system.
Like with every other problem, we talk about this for the few days it is current in May and then it is shelved until the next May.
It is quite simple to create a system where the lists of children accepted by every primary school are published at the Ministry of Education. Parents should be able to verify that children have been chosen according to the ministry’s policy of zoning, and not just by the whim and fancy of any principal or education official.
This kind of transparency that protects the rights of the child makes it harder for certain people to call and beg a favour. These are the realities which will have to be negotiated if we are serious about changing how we view the nation’s children.
When children complain at school, there are few teachers who provide a forum for them to learn to discuss and resolve their challenges. Many times the child complaining is dismissed without the matter being brought to resolution.
Children learn over time that their voices are small and that complaining to trusted adults does not help.
When problems are bigger there is still no better system to help our children. The interface between the school and referral to agencies for further follow-up is another link that is not clearly set out. Teachers see signs of at-risk children or abused children daily in their classrooms, but there is no official form or mechanism to feed information into agencies like the Child Care Board or the Probation Department.
We have started the discussion in part about whether the management sections of the Ministry of Education are staffed in the right way with former teachers comprising the supervisory and administrative roles. For one thing, former teachers seem to transfer their attitudes about children and parents to the management of the ministry.
A child is never to be believed and parents are generally troublemaking. Some of the policymakers also come to their roles with the general attitude that the principal or teacher is never to be challenged.
I suggest that until all these things change, our educational system will continue to lose children along the way. Barbados is just past the crossroads, and the longer we take to realize that, the more we go in the wrong direction.
How many more children can we afford to lose in unfortunate circumstances? Are we really surprised by what has transpired in our country when so many of our systems are failing?
(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email: email@example.com)