It still takes a village

Stabroek News
September 17, 1999

School has reopened and for some students and parents it has been particularly traumatic so far. Confusion reigned on the first day with children being sent away from schools which had no place or space for them. This and other kinks which have arisen in the system with this new school year are still to be satisfactorily straightened out.

Meanwhile, evidence of truancy and lateness, perpetual problems in the school system, has already been seen. Whatever it is that causes school children to be walking the streets of the city, or waiting at bus parks and corners long after classes would have started, has been triggered.

This year a further problem has surfaced--teacher shortage. Not that schools always had adequate numbers of teachers, on the contrary, teachers had always been in short supply in many schools and for various reasons, classes at the University of Guyana foremost among them. This year teachers have left for Botswana, the Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and private schools right here.

The question many parents must be asking now is what is to become of our children? The number of truants is likely to rise if there are not enough teachers to monitor children's actions. Unfortunately, most truants do not simply idle the time away. Some of them will be found riding mini buses, and the ones who can't be found will probably be up to much worse.

President Bharrat Jagdeo, during a visit last week to the mother and relatives of three children who lost their lives in a fire which razed their home at Ogle Squatting Area, had called for all Guyanese to treat every child as their own. He said that only when this kind of behaviour was rekindled that the country would move forward.

Home Affairs Minister, Ronald Gajraj, at the commissioning of the Enterprise Primary School canteen on Sunday, recalled his school days when volunteers visited schools and obtained from teachers a list of absentees. These volunteers would then visit the homes of these children and urge their parents to send them to school, or let the parents know that their child whom they had been sending to school had had a lapse in attendance. Mr Gajraj urged a return to those days.

Time was when adults would stop schoolchildren they saw out of school when they shouldn't be and enquire why this was so. Often if that child had been contemplating truancy, he/she was taken or sent to school with a flea in his/her ear. Nowadays, adults, some of them teachers, constantly pass schoolchildren liming at corners--in uniform--during school hours without a word to them. The lack of care is so far advanced that last school term an incident of assault occurred in a city secondary school-- during school hours and in the presence of teachers, who were busy playing table tennis--which ended up in court.

Have we become so callous a people that we cannot be bothered with what happens to our young ones?

Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of US President Bill Clinton, has written a book on raising children called It Takes a Village to Raise a Child. Mrs Clinton said she chose that old African proverb to title her book because it offered a timeless reminder that children will thrive only if their families thrive and if the whole of society cares enough to provide for them.

But what constitutes a village? When the proverb was first coined a village was an actual geographic location where people lived and worked together. Guyanese of a certain age group would recall when a child in a village, ward, community, was adopted by all the adults, none of whom would allow that child to go naked or hungry or walk any path but the straight and narrow. And children heeded adults. Every older person was Auntie, Uncle, Granny or Grandad--regardless of race, colour, creed, and related or not.

Today a village is much wider, more impersonal. The cliche 'global village' is bandied about, but this is really in reference to how technology has made distance insignificant.

In Guyana we are moving further away from the extended family to the nuclear family situation, even single parents. And in our frenzy to replace interdependence with independence we seem to have loosened our psychological ties to the villages that raised us, the traditions our ancestors were raised to cherish.

We have become complacent and rest on our laurels expecting miracles from the Ministry of Education and teachers. It still takes a village to raise a child. We need to inculcate a village of values and morals; teach children to respect their elders again; be a villager in some child's, any child's life.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples