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Are we failing our children?

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Recent stories published in Searchlight have revealed the findings of two national studies: The National Diagnostic Reading Test and a survey of sexual activity among our children. The results in both cases indicate that somewhere along the line, we are doing something wrong.

Having over 50% of children in a class unable to read at class level is not normal. Assuming that the children were selected randomly for placement in the class, this figure suggests that factors other than learning disabilities are involved here. Learning disabilities would perhaps account for 10 to 15% of children performing at unsatisfactory levels, but over 50% suggests other factors are at play.{{more}}

It would be interesting to look at the class sizes in the schools that did poorly in the reading test in comparison with the class sizes in the schools that did well. Many of the schools in the Kingstown area have classes with well over 40 students. How effective can a teacher be when he or she is trying to engage the attention and imagination of 50 active seven-year-olds, at varying levels, using little more than “chalk and talk”? Parents still insist on enrolling their children in the “town” schools, shunning the smaller schools in their neighborhoods where children are afforded more individual attention because of much smaller class sizes.

And what of the parents of the children who performed inadequately in the test? The fact that so few turned up to the meeting called by the headmaster of the C.W. Prescod Primary School is noteworthy. Did the affected children take the note home? Were the children afraid that they had done something wrong and could escape the consequences by not delivering the note? Were the parents able to read and understand the contents of the note?

Even if the ideal situation exists at school, the chances of our children developing a high level of competence and a love for reading will be slim if the efforts of the school are not reinforced at home. The experts say that from an early age, our children should be immersed in a “print rich” environment, and see the other family members reading for enjoyment and information as a normal part of daily life. Reading should not be inflicted on the child as a punishment, something he or she is sent to do while the other family members “enjoy” themselves by looking at television, for example.

Is there a direct relationship between unsatisfactory performance in school and early sexual activity? Last week, the National AIDS secretariat revealed that 63% of males and 37% of females admitted to having sex before they were 15 years old. Children under 15 years old are undoubtedly not ready for sex. In their pre and early teen years our children should be working at mastering the skills and concepts they would need to navigate successfully in our world. Sexual activity at so young an age is a dangerous distraction. Where is the parental supervision? Is teenage parenting where the child and parents grow up together a factor here?

Why the vast disparity between boys and girls? Do we accord different levels of supervision to the boys as opposed to the girls? Does this bear any relationship to the higher drop-out rate of our boys?

If there is anyone out there still uncertain about the negative effect of pop culture on our society, sit for two hours and view Black Entertainment Television (BET), one of the most popular television channels among our children and young people. This channel serves up a constant diet of tattooed women in almost non-existent outfits ministering two and three at a time to ultra-cool laid back men, who just observe and receive the women’s exaggerated gyrations and body parts pushed in their faces. No wonder so many of our young men think it is the done thing to just sit back and observe while life leaves them behind, and some of our girls work hard to win the prize for being the champion “bubbler”, or for having the sexiest outfit on the boat ride, and assess their worth in terms of their ability to attract attention from men.

In a recent interview, the world’s most successful female pop star, Madonna, a woman who has spent most of her career bulldozing the boundaries of decency on television and in movies, said that “television is poison,” and that she does not allow her children, one nine years old, the other five, to view it. Any arguments over homework means loss of computer games, and clothes left on the bedroom floor are taken away and have to be earned back by good behaviour… “If barracuda come out of the sea…”

We cannot downplay the effect of socioeconomic factors such as poverty, unemployment and illiteracy on the parents’ ability to exert control. However, in many cases, much better can and should be done. Permissive and careless parenting has negative effects not only on the child and the home, but on the entire society.

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