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Who is responsible for school children during school hours?

Recently there have been reports of children in school uniform seen walking around the town and other areas instead of being in school. This issue prompted a revisit of the past when teachers took to the streets in the 1990s, as they felt they were not being treated fairly. Parents then did not accept the idea of their children being unexpectedly sent away from the school compounds before the stipulated time and used every opportunity to voice their concerns including phone in radio programmes. This caught the attention of the officials at the Ministry of Education and some form of supervision was put in place to keep children safe in the absence of the teachers. Those parents back then understood the teachers struggle and even supported them; but they viewed the idea of their children roaming aimlessly when they should have been in school as very serious. The consensus was that once children are accepted in the school, they should be safely accommodated until the end of the school day. So what has since changed?

This newspaper received information of arrangement in some schools of classes being merged, prefects being appointed to take control of classes and even the Parent Teacher Associations pitched in to take control of the situation. Imagine the parents that make strong efforts to outfit their children for school because it is the right of the child, only to learn that their child was taken into police custody after getting in a fight when he or she should have been in school. The parent may have been the one to drive him or her to school and watched as the child went through the school gate before leaving for the job only to receive a phone call one hour later to come back for the child. Those parents will then have to face a predicament since even the public library is no more. Who is responsible for making the decision to close the schools and send the children home in such ad hoc manner earlier than expected?

Closing schools earlier than what is stipulated may very well be going against the rights of the child. This in itself can lead to mayhem, since there aren’t many jobs where children are accommodated along with their parents. So most parents can only pray that their children who were turned away from the school compounds, make sensible decisions in the absence of a public library. Somebody announced last Friday in the teachers’ protest action in Saint George’s that soon the students will be marching with them. This can lead to another discussion and the question, is it ethical to draw children into protest actions without the permission of the parents?

The situation in schools should draw the attention of the Child Welfare Authority, the statutory body charged with the task of making sure the rights of children are met. The Authority is most likely unaware of children left adrift these days during school hours and probably missed the announcement about having the children on the protest marches because so far it has not made a public statement on what seems to be the intrusion into the rights of the child. But, it’s not too late for the highly paid workers charged with child safety to start paying attention. While we agree that children should be aware of what is going on around them, there is the question of being age-appropriate in order for them to understand contexts. It is also argued in some circles that corrupting children’s minds too early can block their potential development.

In the 1980s during the last year of the Revolution, school children in uniform led the way in a highly charged political march to free the Prime Minister from house arrest. Many of them today say they had underestimated the seriousness of the event. Some students were killed while others disappeared without a trace up to today and very little reference is made of them as heroes or martyrs. The idea of so many members of the Royal Grenada Police Force deployed in Saint George’s last Friday as protest actions continued, may very well be a warning of things to come. In addressing the issue, the Minister of Education seems, in a subtle way, to be pointing fingers at the teachers for what may seem to be their abandonment of the students at school. But, with no compromise on the horizon where is this situation heading?

Teachers on the other hand, are taking their struggle seriously and are pulling out new ammunition as they go along. They are also wise enough to stay well within their rights as quoted in their latest notice to the Ministry of Education. According to UNICEF, the state must take responsibility for the safety of children.

The teachers could be seen as struggling today to make a better world for them tomorrow.

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