Letters & Opinion

Man was Born Tabula Rasa: A Philosophy of Education in Relation to Violence and Crime in St. Lucia — Part 5

By Sylvestre Phillip

POLICE have begun a crackdown on violence and crime in St. Lucia. Hurray! It would seem that the attack has started. I saw it on the road myself on Monday evening. I’m making it a point not to provide any details. Let me wish them well in their rigid defence of the people of this nation.

In my last article, I began the process of offering suggestions for dealing with the crime situation, more particularly the young people of the nation. I began with education. In that article, I emphasized that any attempts at reversing the crime situation would have to consider some long-term goals for the education system.

In the last issue, I dealt with absenteeism in school because I am very sure that there is a correlation between student absenteeism and violence and crime.

In this article, I will continue to deal with the issue of school attendance and move to Religious Education in schools in St. Lucia.

I have made the very important point that school attendance must be made compulsory. Indeed, I am aware that laws do exist in St. Lucia in this regard: Sections 37 to 46 of the Education Act of 1977 deals adequately with school attendance. But as far as we all know in St. Lucia, many of our laws are not enforced, including school attendance under the Education Act. And we continue to invest large sums of money in education and receiving very small returns from our investments. We seem to be quite comfortable with that!

Education is a business. The return on this business investment is good performance. The government and, indeed, parents expect that the children of the nation and their children would perform well in school under the guidance and tutelage of our teachers. A very important variable in the mix is school attendance.

Every time I go to the United States of America, I make it a point to investigate the education system there. There are quite a few things about the education system that I have learnt. As an educator, I am very clear in my mind that to ensure that children attend school and remain for the school day to receive instruction, their basic human need of adequate food must be met. Many St. Lucians may not know that, but many children come to school without a proper breakfast to keep them for the day. The reason many of the students do not attend school is because there is nothing at home to give them.

In schools in the United States of America, there is a breakfast programme before the commencement of the school day which is available to all students who require the service. That country has a legitimate reason to enforce school attendance. When children remain home for two days and report on the third day, a medical certificate must be produced. If they still do not show up on day three, a social worker and school attendance officer will be knocking at the door of the parents. If the parents are found to be negligent, they could face a jail term. That’s serious business!

Now the school breakfast and lunch programmes run concurrently and the commercial sector supports these programmes heavily. I can even provide the names of some of these organizations.

In St. Lucia, I know that a few schools have begun the breakfast programme, and the government of St. Lucia under the World Food Programme supports a lunch programme. But we need to broaden the programme to include all schools.

In 1995, Olaf Fontenelle, Manager of Peter & Company, through Grace Jamaica, supported a breakfast programme at the Roseau Combined School where I was principal at the time. Indeed, I am very thankful to this day for that support. It could be done in all schools! So while I insist on compulsory school attendance, I am also aware that the school feeding programme is absolutely necessary.

We now come to the issue of Religious Education in schools. The earlier philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and Aristotle speak very firmly about the immortality of the soul. Aristotle, in particular, speaks a lot about the human character. Aristotle claims: “That character develops over time as one acquires habits from parents and community, first through reward and punishment.” The community is inclusive of the schools. Now morality falls within the scope of character.

Simply stated, the soul is a part of a person that is not physical. Morality simply explained means the principles of right and wrong behaviour and the goodness or badness of human character.

I am not a pastor or a priest, although we are called to be priestly people. I am just a lay person. I have brought up these issues to show the importance of Religious Education or Instruction in schools.

The teaching of Religious Education in government-assisted schools is carefully spelt out in the Education Act of 1977, Section 120. Subsection (1) states: “Where an assisted school is owned or managed by a denominational body, the denominational body shall be responsible for organising and providing religious instruction or education to students that belong to its religious faith in accordance with the curriculum prescribed by that body.”

The State recognises the importance of teaching Religious Education or Religious Instruction in schools albeit government-assisted schools.

As a very young Roman Catholic, I learned very early in school that the soul can never die. Not only that; I also had the opportunity to develop my character over time. That was necessary since I was being prepared for life with all its harsh realities.

The school Religious Instructional programme made provisions to teach Religious Education for 30 minutes every school day. Indeed, in the higher grades the instruction could go up to 45 minutes.

The very important question at this time is whether Religious Education is taught in schools as required by law?

In my next article, we will continue the conversation and come to a better understanding of violence and crime in St. Lucia.

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