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A is for Apple, B is for Bat, C for yourself– Compulsory school attendance and you

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We have just a few more days to go before the doors of our schools are reopened after a considerably long summer break. Yet, how serious are we in ensuring that there is compulsory student attendance in our classrooms?

It is safe to say that St. Vincent and Grenadines without doubt is presently experiencing what can be considered at its minimum an “education wave” and at its very best an “education revolution”. {{more}}

However the revolution will not be complete if we fail to do all that lies in our power to ensure that a proper framework is set up to ensure compulsory school attendance.

Indeed this is an issue of first importance which must be placed on the front burner, since there appears to be a direct relation between poor school attendance and illiteracy.

It is sad to say, but the statistics have proven clearly that over 18,000 of our brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and many of our family members within our own homes, are unable to express themselves with a minimum degree of comfort using very basic numbers and words. In turn, what this suggests is that one out of every five Vincentian is literate challenged.

The statistics are frightening to say the least. However, this is not the time for finger pointing, or for us to be casting the blame on the one standing next to us. We have a national literacy problem, and as a people we must collectively face it and seek to advance a common solution.

Where then do we begin?

There appears to be two justified approaches readily opened to us. The first and most apparent is to conduct a properly planned, structured and conceived Adult Literacy programme designed to reach out to the literate challenged, and the second which must not be seen in isolation of the first is to attack the problem not from the branches but from its roots.

All “Qs” are followed by a “U”

I had the humble privilege to attend a three (3) day workshop at the Marriaqua Community Centre conducted by Nigel Morgan who with the assistance of other trained personnel conducted sessions geared at training facilitators to assist in the adult literacy crusade. By the way it was the first time I was taught that all “Qs” are followed by a “U”.

Further though, the national Literacy Crusade targets persons age fifteen (15) years and over, and its first phase is expected to last for 18 months. To properly administer the Adult Literacy programme the island has been strategically divided into ten (10) zones covering from Fancy to the Southern Grenadines.

Indeed, it was a most creative idea to place Her Majesty’s Prisons as a zone within itself with the objective to give prisoners who are literate challenged a chance to redeem themselves while still in Prison.

While all that is excellent and I really cannot say enough in commending our efforts as Adult Literacy Campaigners. It must be admitted in light of the attempts to address the problem at hand that compulsory attendance in schools has to be addressed with a greater degree of seriousness. This is particularly so for students who have to share their school time with work required of them in different forms of employment in which their parents are involved.

A prime example of this occurs among students residing in the major “banana belts,” where many children do not have a choice as to whether they attend to the banana fields on shipment day or attend classes. In many of our communities such a behaviour has become so engrained in our culture that it may appear almost out of place to even attempt to legislate against those parents who engage and encourage unrestricted “child assistance labour”.

Sad to say, the males in these communities tend to be the most disadvantaged.

Yet at graduations we all pretend to be surprised by the male to female ratio in the graduating classes as if the issue was really created in Mars. So we must act urgently.

Parent’s duty to enforce attendance

It is in this regard that our legislators must be commended for comprehensively addressing the issue of compulsory school attendance in the proposed Education Bill.

The Bill makes for interesting reading and sets out the following as it relates to the issue:

Firstly, a student is excused from school attendance for reasons such as sickness, or where the school is closed or in situations where a child is receiving home education.

Secondly, the parent has a duty to enforce attendance. In the event that the parent neglects or fails to ensure such attendance without excuse, that parent commits an offence. The Bill proposes to transform what may have been considered a moral duty on the part of the parent into a legal duty.

Thirdly, a person may only employ a child of compulsory school age if it is during the school vacation or if the employment is part of an educational programme.

And fourthly, suitable qualified persons are to be appointed as school attendance officers who would have the power to apprehend and deliver to the school or his parent the student absent.

In short, what we have on paper so far is good and is definitely the best way forward. Our aim as a people within this dispensation of Caribbean integration and regionalism must be 100% literacy at the soonest date possible. See for yourself that a functioning system geared at ensuring compulsory school attendance is the way to go.

Let’s get moving.

• Saboto Caesar is a legal officer and a community worker. He is a 1999 national scholar.

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