Continuing the mission of education

Continuing the mission of education

Wayne
Campbell

Friday, October 30, 2020

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Education is a human right with immense power to transform. — Kofi Annan

Education is a right not a privilege. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 is a ground-breaking document in the annals of human history. Article 26 (1) of the UDHR states everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Article 26 (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations… Article 26 (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

We experience life in different ways. The novel coronavirus pandemic has upended many lives. One of the major casualties of this coronavirus is the closure of schools and, subsequently, the disruption in the education system.

Without any educated workforce we are doomed. Many governments have resorted to remote or virtual teaching in order for students to resume their education. The remote teaching and learning has exposed income inequalities and the digital divide. Undoubtedly, some students — often those students from the lower socio-economic levels — will be disenfranchised and disadvantaged. Governments are cognisant of this fact; however, the uptake in COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases has made it impossible to have a general face-to-face reopening of schools. Many parents, especially parents of students with comorbidities have turned to homeschooling as an option. In the home-school narrative we once again see the divide between the haves and the haves-not. Unfortunately, many students do not have tablets or laptops, or even a smartphone necessary to access remote teaching. On the other hand, there are those students who have all of the named gadgets at their disposal. Access to telephone data is also problematic. Many parents have lost jobs in this pandemic and as such there is not much disposable income.

PATH Programme

The government's social safety project, the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) is a conditional cash transfer initiative. In the 2018/2019 financial year, more than 340,000 Jamaicans benefited from this programme. It should be noted that the primary beneficiaries of PATH are school-age children. In some schools almost half of the student population is on PATH. The level of poverty runs deep in the society and this has worsened because of the pandemic.

Many Jamaicans do not have a steady job. In a newspaper interview the principal of Haile Selassie High School, located in an inner-city area, stated that of the school's 1,033 students, 492 are on PATH. Each student on PATH receives a cooked meal for lunch for the five-day school week. In some of our educational institutions, more than half of the students are PATH beneficiaries. The closure of schools resulting from COVID-19 has not only interfered with access to education, it has also disrupted the access to enhance nutrition for many students. Many of our schools serve as a haven for our students many of whom are struggling both financially and emotionally. Unfortunately, we have the suspected suicide of at least two pre-teens. It bares thought that more psychosocial support is needed for our students in these challenging times.

Homeschooling involves the parent undertaking the responsibility for the education of their child in the controlled surroundings of the home. Homeschooling is often motivated by parental desire to exclude and shield their children from the traditional school environment. An increasing number of parents are homeschooling their children due to health purposes. For example, some children may have comorbidities, such as diabetes, asthma, and sickle cell disease, and as such it's best for them to remain home given the pandemic.

In some instances, students have special needs challenges, such as autism, and many parents of such children opt for homeschooling. Additionally, there are some parents who prefer to give their child/children a more religious-based educational experience which home education facilitates as opposed to the traditional public school system. Students who are homeschooled need to have some structure; it is recommended that parents provide the students with a timetable outlining the day's activities. It is also recommended that parents ensure that homeschool children have an opportunity to socialise with their peers. The emotional support from peers should not be discontinued because a student is being homeschooled. The National Standards Curriculum can be downloaded from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information's website. There is a network of parents who homeschool their children, reach out for support. Parents should also keep samples of the work done by their children.

Legislative framework

In relations to the laws governing schooling and the education of the nation's children, the Education Act of 1965 (Part III) Section 21 states:

a) It is the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age residing in a compulsory education area to cause him or her to receive full-time education suitable to his age, ability, and satisfactory to the educational board for the area, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise.

In addition, the Child Care & Protection Act 2005 outlines provisions which protect the child's right to quality education.

The Child Care & Protection Act (2005) under Part (II), subsection 28 (1): Duty to secure education of a child states:

b) “[E]very person, having the custody, charge, or care of a child between the ages four and 16 years shall take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the child is enrolled at, and attends school.”

Homeschooling was not a popular option in Jamaica prior to the pandemic. In fact, many of us did not know much about homeschooling until it was raised a few years in the political arena. Parents do have the option to choose this path for their children. Those who can afford it can hire tutors to provide the instruction. Still, parents need to be prudent regarding who they allow into their homes as tutors for their children. Parents, it is your responsibility to do some backgrounds checks on the tutors. It is within your right to ask for a recommendation from the tutor's previously employ. Perhaps the time is fast approaching when a police record will be required from tutors.

As far as the story goes, this single mother of two children has no tablets for her children to use. Additionally, both her children are on the PATH. There are families with so much, and then we have families barely surviving. A troubling newspaper article, published October 11, 2020, mentioned that of the 225 students placed in first form at Holy Trinity High School in Kingston, only 160 have so far registered for online classes. Even more disconcerting is the fact that only 60 students logged in for orientation last week. According to Vice-Principal Beneze Dunn, only 45 per cent of the 1,162 students who are supposed to be registered have reported for online classes. What will happen to the over 500 students who have not yet reported for school? We should be reminded that this is only one educational institution. Disturbingly, many children are abused in their very home. Parents must be vigilant and do the necessary checks before contracting the services of a tutor. Predators do not take holidays. Parents should be the first line of protection for the well-being and protection of their children.

In the words of Herbert Ward: “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or waykam@yahoo.com, @WayneCamo.


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