Concern mounts over children skipping school

by Gwen Evelyn
Guyana Chronicle
April 23, 2000

EARLY last month, police caught 53 primary and secondary school students in Nintendo games clubs during five separate raids in Georgetown.

Their parents were contacted and advised accordingly.

But the number of those held in one day is staggering, leaving one to wonder whether truancy in Guyana is on the increase.

It has become common to see young boys and girls who really should be in school, roaming the streets instead.

Many are obviously just lingering and this is evident by their unhurried look at a time when classes are obviously in session.

Dolphin Secondary in Georgetown is one of those schools where there is a high rate of truancy.

A source there said it is most pronounced with second and third formers.

The reason offered was that Dolphin has now changed to a secondary school and the work has become more challenging.

"When they can't cope, they stay away", the source said.

Third formers, the source noted, are very active and easily influenced by peers who encourage truancy.

Nintendo games, a popular reason for truancy, is a fad among Guyanese students.

The Dolphin school source said there is a shop not far from the school and there are always problems getting students out of it.

By the time the third formers enter the fourth form, they usually settle down again as the Caribbean Examination Council looms.

This situation is no better at Kingston Community High School, also in the city.

Headmaster, Mr Donald Sukhdeo observed that truancy is high when it's time for an examination.

But that is not the only time.

Sukhdeo blames the situation partially on social and economic problems facing homes.

Surveys reveal that the majority of the students there come from poor homes, he said. Some do not get a proper meal and this makes the learning process slow.

Soon, the student finds it difficult to keep up with the rest of the class and the disheartened pupil then opts out.

Another reason for truancy, Sukhdeo said, is peer pressure.

Most importantly, in several cases, parental guidance and control are not there.

Children are not taught the value of education and there is very little the school can do then for students, Sukhdeo said.

He noted that a child who does not like a subject, stays away.

With the Nintendo games, Sukhdeo said he has had to speak with the owner of one nearby shop since his students have been going there a little too regularly.

This headmaster has been in his profession for more than 30 years and he can recall well when school welfare officers checked registers, contacted parents and examined the circumstances of students.

Perhaps more frequent visits to the homes of students can help the situation, Sukhdeo suggested.

However, the teachers do not have the facilities to do this.

Instead, Sukhdeo has started a morality programme at his school and he hopes his may have some sort of spin off effect.

Queenstown Community High attempted to tackle the problem with Parent Teachers Association (PTA) workshops.

The school's headmaster said this was started by the PTA and was intended to sensitise parents about the effects of truancy.

This has helped curb truancy at that school and another workshop is planned for September.

Prior to the workshop, reasons given for truancy were that students had to help with economic activities in their homes. Some attended school hungry and with no proper clothing.

Another teacher, who also prefers to remain anonymous, linked the truancy to a discipline problem.

Once again, the question of lack of parental control cropped up.

This teacher said there is a younger breed of parents with no control over their children. This is worsened by parents condoning their children's acts, he said.

The teacher reported once seeing a group of girls, who should have been in school, get into a particular mini-bus.

It is believed they were headed for a creek on the Linden Highway.

Many times when the school sends for parents, they do not turn up.

The teacher offering this information is an experienced one who has been in the system for several years.

And, in his view, indiscipline and truancy have been on the increase in the 1990s.

This teacher also noted that many of the students come from single parent households where they have to assist economically and with younger family members.

This sometimes affects their attendance, the teacher said.

Another thing that disrupts attendance is extra lessons.

According to the teacher, others in his profession stress after hour classes for students.

The teachers do not care what happens during school hours and this gives students ample opportunity to play truant.

Many teachers also attend university.

Determined to link truancy to indiscipline, the teacher said that students at a particular school have been known to attempt beating their teachers.

He said he has seized `channa' bombs and bass (mace) from the secondary school students.

Instead of Nintendo games, they prefer to gamble with cards at a nearby Chinese restaurant. They even attempted to beat a teacher once, he said.

The problem can be curbed with smaller, more controllable classes.

Those being trained to be teachers should also be screened, this person said.

Welfare officers are also needed at schools, the teacher said.

Many older persons recall getting away from school years ago to go to the cinema and getting caught by the ever vigilant probation officers.

And if this situation is not taken in hand?

This teacher foresees an indisciplined society contributing to a rise in unemployment, social diseases and the crime rate.