Nurturing positive attitudes in schoolchildren

Guyana Chronicle
September 5, 2001

IN OUR column last Monday, the first day of the new school year, we outlined the many advances made over recent years in the delivery of education. We spoke of the many new and refurbished school buildings that boast amenities such as running water, technical education and home economics facilities, and in some cases, software for instruction in the field of Information Technology (IT).

We mentioned, as well, the many teacher education improvement courses that are designed to cater to the needs of student teachers as well as on-the-job practitioners with family responsibilities. Those educators located deep in the hinterland Guyana are about to benefit, if they have not yet started to do so, from the concept of distance learning.

We made the point on Monday, that given all these positive developments in the public learning system, today’s youths have no excuse for failing to acquire a sound primary education and adequate secondary instruction. Of course, we are assuming that these children are members of fairly stable home environment, where they are physically nourished and nurtured and protected from any form of physical, sexual or mental violence.

The social reality of today’s existence compels those adults who are the parents and guardians of school-age children to be sensitive to the range of distractions that can distort a young student’s perspective, and if not addressed positively, could result in another youth dropping through the cracks into social oblivion.

And we are not necessarily speaking here of drug and experimentation or loose sexual behaviour, although these are some very real threats to the well-being and development of young people. We are very worried about the impact that peer pressure exerts on the minds of those teenagers, whose personalities are more geared to imitate and follow than to initiate and make their own intelligent personal statements.

Guyana was shocked two years ago when a beautiful girl-child, who was a product of a loving home, chose to end her life apparently because her mother failed to get her the quality of footwear she had requested for the new school term. There are reports of teenagers demanding that their parents buy them brand-name sneakers or boots, which cost, when translated into Guyana currency, approximately $35,000!

Of course, the parents of these children have to be very comfortably off to be expending this outrageous amount of money on footwear. And to those 40 and 50-something citizens, the situation is scandalous, especially when if they grew up in humble homes with modest incomes that did not allow their parents to purchase anything but pair after pair of Bata yachting shoes.

So pervasive is peer pressure that the less-than-well-off child can be made to feel excluded and unpopular if he or she cannot sport the newest designer confection. Eventually, the effects of this peer pressure can stifle a child’s ability to absorb and process knowledge. Some of the children, who pay attention to their studies and are prompt with their essays and project assignments, might suffer the indignities of being called `egghead’, `nerd’, or whatever the popular jargon is for smart student.

We are convinced that a child’s ability to learn and assimilate knowledge and information has to be inculcated early in life by parents, who would read stories to that child to kindle his or her imagination. The child must be taught meaningful values so that when they become adolescents, they would not be disturbed by the silly and mindless distractions pursued by those who are intent on passing through the school system without acquiring the education that is offered free of cost by the state.

Parents, teachers, community and youth leaders must revisit that aspect of the past generation, which persuaded all adults to look out for all the children in the community.