Columns

Hear a cry of desperation from our schools

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, January 18, 2019

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We are all rushing, so pause, take a deep breath and ponder some realities which should claim our compassion and action at the highest level. Here is one letter from a teacher who is laying foundations — socialising our kids in our supposedly well-funded schools:

“Hello, Mr Johnston, ever since I have been in education for the past 12 years, I have not seen where the business of education is taken seriously by the Government; the finger-pointing down here to take much of the attention from up there.

“Aside from this, there are many underlying factors, apart from teaching and learning that hamper performance in schools. For example, there are students in my class who have not been to school for more than 20 days for the entire term. Two of the children were placed on a feeding programme and the attendance is still poor. What do the children eat before school and at school, if they eat at all? Normally, the canteen provides a cooked meal for students on PATHE (sic). No lunch was provided this week.

“There are 21 students in my class and this week alone I spent over $1,000 from my purse to feed children. On Monday two children had no lunch, one child got only $50 for the entire day. The remainder had Chubby, iCool, Cheese Trix, popcorn, biscuits, etc. One morning the children were extremely sluggish and almost totally unresponsive (this happens a lot though). They wouldn't sing, clap or move around during the lesson. I tried exercises, etc, to no avail.

“I asked for a show of hands to indicate who ate breakfast; only about 60 per cent of the hands went up. As a parent and a teacher I feel deeply sad and hurt because it's like I'm 'driving water uphill'. I was called to do the almost impossible. Especially when I remember what were in their bags for breaks and lunch. I felt hopeless and hurt.

“I come prepared to do my job but how do I reach a class of hungry students. Oh, let me inform you that these are five-year-olds. I have had grade one and it was no different. Grade five was even worse, because they have to get up, search and fend for themselves. At times the smaller ones get and they don't. Not to mention we had some ASTEP students and I was most sad for them, they are almost forgotten. They cook, clean, wash and care for smaller ones.

“Can I tell you that many of our children are not being 'parented', they are left alone most of the times. Children are left at school till after 4 in the days. When you call the parents you hear things like, 'oh, a so it did late?' Or, 'I fell asleep'. 'I'm on the road'. 'I'm on my way'.

“I called two meetings to meet the parents last term and on both occasions less than 50 per cent turned up. I have children in my class whose parents I have never met since September. I called, I sent messages and to no avail. One gentleman takes his child to school every morning and has never set foot inside to ask how is his child? I had to go on the road to invite him in.

“I have 21 students in the class. Of the 21, only eight have textbooks. Of the eight, five have all the required books. Only yesterday a child came to tell me her writing book got wet on Wednesday in the rain. She didn't come to school on Thursday and yesterday she came with nothing to write in or with.

“I could go on and on and on — Poor deportment, mannerisms, exposure to sex, violence; children left unattended at home…. and we the teachers get it all to deal with. We have to be mothers, friend, counsellors, etc. I comb hair, wash uniform, bathe children, feed them, buy school supplies etc.

“Some teachers are making 'blood from stone'. Then to top it off, our classrooms are filled with water when it rains and when it's hot we are toasting, but we remain committed. And I didn't mention the large number of 'special students', not gifted, special, that we have in front of us.

“Dear sir, I am not saying sometimes the children are not being short-changed but I know some teachers try really hard. They work miracles. They go beyond what they are being paid for. At my school extra lessons are mainly free. Some of us have no family time. You speak of payment by performance. I can give of my best but if children are not present and when they are they are hungry, tired, abused, neglected, etc how can I be judged and held accountable?”

Prime Minister Holness, we have a problem. The foundations need your attention. Stay conscious!

 

— Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon) is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); lectures logistics and supply chain and management at the Mona School of Business and Management at the University of the West Indies. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com


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