Education Ministry proposes a welfare officer in each school

Stabroek News
July 26, 2001

The Ministry of Education is moving to strengthen the Schools' Welfare Unit in all regional departments and Permanent Secretary, Hydar Ally, noted that the time had come when every school should have someone responsible for welfare matters on a daily basis.

In brief remarks at the opening of a three-day workshop for schools' welfare officers at the Ocean View Hotel and Convention Centre at Liliendaal yesterday Ally noted that the presence of representatives of all education administrative districts to the workshop was an indication of the seriousness the ministry had placed on welfare issues.

The workshop, themed `Towards a more effective schools welfare service', is the first being hosted by the ministry in many years. The ministry's welfare unit has been merged with the welfare division of the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, but educators feel that schools' welfare officers should revert to the Education Ministry. At present they are seconded from the Ministry of Human Services.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry is also calling on regional education departments to submit to the ministry cases of children who have problems with their vision and those whose parents may not be able to acquire uniforms because of economics.

Delivering the main address, Chief Education Officer, Ed Caesar, said that if every education department had a welfare department, data now needed in relation to those with visual impairment and other problems would have been easier compared to the problems officials were now encountering to trying to put together the pertinent information. This kind of information, he said, was necessary for meeting budgetary deadlines if assistance must be sought.

Noting that on Tuesday a child in Region Six was killed in a motor vehicle accident while standing on a pedestrian crossing by someone whom it was alleged was under the influence of alcohol, Caesar reiterated that adults were not paying enough attention to those less-abled. He repeated that on the day school closed for the August holidays a record six or seven school children were admitted to the Georgetown Public Hospital following accidents.

About attitudes, Caesar said that educators and welfare officers

must be the change agents. One of their more important priorities, he said, was to enhance, if not restore, the moral fabric of the society. "It cannot be restored or enhanced if families have no respect for race, colour, religion or creed," he said.

He said that while the welfare of young people rested on everyone in society it was primarily the schools' welfare officers on whom society would depend to ensure students' welfare.

The welfare officers, Caesar stressed, should not only focus on bringing about change in students but in adults as well. As counsellors, he said, they would need to counsel parents as well as children and teachers when the situation warranted it. Depending on the trends, and using minibus riding as an example, he said that welfare officers might even have to counsel minibus drivers and conductors. He said that this was necessary as many adults from all levels of society continued to label children causing them to lose their self-esteem or have a poor concept of themselves.

Caesar said that the welfare officers' job was multifaceted and went beyond the regular working hours. He challenged those identified for the three-day training period to leave the profession now if they were not prepared to go the extra mile.

If one child of school age did not attend school or was late habitually, he said, the welfare officer must be concerned about that one child. It was also the duty of the welfare officers to find out why those who attended school regularly and punctually did not do well.

To get to the source of the problem and deal with it, he said, welfare officers also had to be investigators and advisers. They would have to develop investigative techniques as they could not counsel without understanding the issues. And they would need to act in an advisory capacity to the education ministry, the police, health institutions among others that might require their assistance to effectively do their jobs where children were concerned.

Stressing that they must be exemplars, he cautioned, however, that welfare officers could not act in an advisory capacity and live and behave in a worse manner than those they were counselling.

Referring to teachers, Caesar said that they were generally caring people but there were a few who did things contrary to the rules and regulations. Those teachers, he said, gave the impression that schools were places of brutality and as such give teachers and the schools a bad name. Because of this, he said, there was need to impress on persons to use alternatives to corporal punishment as a means of disciplining students. (Miranda La Rose)