FOR many young persons there are few life changing experiences to match the closing or opening of a school year. For those whose school days are over, the challenge of a new life beckons. Many will find it difficult to cope with the pressures of un-employment. New unemployed friends lurk. Soon a new entrant is added to the group sub-culture. The period of adjustment for the school leaver with few options is particularly difficult. Parents who lack contacts to get their young graduates a paying job or a scholarship to continue their studies face increased frustration. Our hearts go out to these parents and the school leaver who has his whole life ahead of him and hardly knows what’s next for him…or her.
There is even more pressure on parents who have to feed and clothe a young adult just out of school, while searching for uniforms, books and shoes for her kids returning to school. As the school year opens one must spare a thought for the little ones who are about to experience long hours away from home. In time, they will adjust and hopefully learn to love and not resent school. Some are marked to fall by the wayside as there are no supporting structures at home. Too often parents leave it entirely to teachers and the state to educate and provide for their children. Thankfully, the state (and some in the private sector) assists needy cases with scholarships.
An increasingly side issue which marks the opening of a new school year is the traffic on the island’s roads. Increasing vehicular traffic – parents and teachers rushing through early morning hours – noisy children re-connecting with friends, are par for the course. In these cyclical school opening events one ought to spare a thought for persons with no school-age children and who are forced to leave home earlier for work to beat the traffic.
A new school year also poses additional pressures on forward thinking parents who will be seeking additional help for their kids to ensure success in the Common Entrance exams. These exams have evolved into a crucial marker which for many parents will determine their children’s path to tertiary education and a higher placement in the job market. Passing the Common Entrance Exam is therefore an increasingly big deal in Saint Lucia as more and more younger parents make greater demands for the longer established schools no matter where these parents live or which secondary schools they attended.
As hinted above the most remarkable feature of a new school year is the trust which parents without much concern, allow their children into the hands of perfect strangers. Parents entrust children into the care of the school, its teachers and its administrative head – the school principal. I have before expressed an admiration for the nation’s teachers due to the important work of helping raise and educate the next generation of citizens. One prays that more parents would appreciate and support the work of the teachers and principals and help them help their children.
Given the large number of persons in the teaching profession one is bound to come across a small minority who has inadvertently found themselves in the wrong job. Most teachers are calm and caring and put the children in their care (the classroom), first and foremost. Others have been observed to carry their personal home issues into the class shouting and lashing out at their little charges. School prayers are meant to center teachers and children alike in the day’s work. Talkative and playful child also bring the home environment into the school. These are encouraged to speak at home. Care must therefore be taken to handle these calmly and not drive them into permanent silence. One can only hope that harsh and abusive voices in classrooms continue to be a rare exception.
Many years ago, I attended a graduation ceremony at the Cave Hill campus (Barbados), of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and listened to an address by Professor Arthur Lewis (he was not yet knighted) in which he stressed the importance of quality education at primary schools. Sir Arthur must have repeated that speech (delivered early seventies) more than once in the Caribbean. No one denies the challenges which many teachers face. It is particularly difficult and frustrating when some parents pass their children onto teachers who are treated as care givers (baby sitters), and are expected to supply school materials and snacks to these children.
That cannot be right! And something must be done about it. This is clearly a topic for dialogue with a view to finding a solution. Sometimes one gets the impression that some people would avoid such a discussion at all cost. It still remains a necessary and essential dialogue if we are to progress and save the nation’s children from anger and illiteracy. Other discussions on the education system and where do we go from here are certainly on the cards as Saint Lucia welcomes another school year – September 2016.