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Matthew Farley


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Time is what we want most but what we use worst. – William Penn
Every day across Barbados over 3 000 students in uniform can be seen on the streets long after school has started. On average school commences at 8:45 a.m. While a few schools like The St Michael School, recently St Leonard’s Boys’ and the Metropolitan start earlier, the Education Act Cap. 41 of the Laws of Barbados speaks to the first session commencing at 9 a.m. Approximately 15 minutes are allowed for corporate worship. In other words, students should be at school definitely by 9 a.m.
Most schools have a rule that states that students must be punctual for classes. Morning assembly, which starts the school day in most, if not all schools, is also an occasion for the school to forge its ethos by enforcing its rules and develop moral and spiritual values among the students.
The consequences of lateness are many and far-reaching. Students who are habitually late for school will have difficulty being early as employees, if they are fortunate to find a job. In the world of business time is money and lateness translates into loss of productivity, which is measurable in real monetary terms. As Benjamin Franklin puts it, time is money.
How serious is the problem of unpunctuality in our schools? From discussions with some of my peers, it appears to be grave cause for concern. It is my projection that between ten and 15 per cent of the students at the secondary level arrive late for school. In real terms this means that over 3 000 students are late on a regular basis. I have visited the Fairchild Street Bus Terminal on a number of occasions only to find students from at least seven of our secondary schools there as late as ten o’clock.
Lateness is seen by many as a Caribbean phenomenon. West Indians who went to Britain in 1950s were threatened with and in some instances dismissed as many of them took the bad habit of unpunctuality with them. The research also shows that West Indians have this in common with the Malaysians who are also said to be famous for being late.
Why are students late for school? I, like a number of my colleagues, am currently grappling with a high incidence of unpunctuality among my students. The most common reason given by those who arrive late is that of traffic. Incidentally, this is also the most popular reason given by adults in the workplace for being late. Another reason that is often given by students is that they woke up late. Incidentally this is the reason for which they are most likely to be punished or sent back home.
Increasingly, many students say that they are late because they had to take their siblings to school. Yet others say they had to go to their father to collect money, or live in St John but have to go to another parish to get money.
Where are the parents in all this? When contacted and told of their child’s lateness, many parents do not understand why their child or ward should be getting to school after 9:30 a.m. or after ten o’clock, sometimes especially since some leave home as early as 6:30 a.m. or 7 a.m.
Many parents do not send a note even though they know that the child is going to be late. In many instances parents are to blame for their child’s unpunctuality. Many do not insist that their children go to bed at an early hour. Many students are spending hours, not doing homework, but on the social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, engaging in useless chatter. Yet many others spend hours on the telephone until the wee hours of the morning.
Still others cannot get a good night’s rest because of overcrowding, excessive noise in the home or in the community. In some instances parents put everything there for the child and leave for work as early as 5:30 a.m., only to call back at 7 a.m. to find that the child is still in bed. While unpunctuality is a major problem with lasting repercussions, schools must be firm but reasonable in dealing with the problem. Some parents admit they are to blame. Some students admit they woke up late; yet many others blame it on the traffic even though they know otherwise.
It is a problem on which parents and guardians, communities and school personnel must converge with one common intention: to stamp it out. If unpunctuality among school-aged children goes unchecked, much of our substantial investment in education will end up in the proverbial Maxwell Pond.