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Troubling trend of truancy

rhondathompson, [email protected]

Troubling trend of truancy

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WITH ALL THE TRIALS that have beset local education in recent times, who would have expected truancy to rear its ugly head?
Having had a commission of inquiry into the Alexandra School’s industrial dispute, and faced with strike action at Alma Parris Secondary on the eve of the new academic year, Barbados has to get to grips with the matter of parents recently being charged for failing to send their children to school regularly.
Whether their excuse was a lack of clothes or otherwise, it presented an unusual phenomenon in Barbados where truancy has now been traced directly to parents.
In the past, truancy was a by-product of youthful indifference, disinterest, defiance and demotivation, and accompanied traits such as physical violence, abusive language, disrespect towards teachers, sexual misconduct, stealing, gambling, bullying, violations of the school’s dress codes, and wilful destruction of school property.
In fact, as far back as 2009, the Royal Barbados Police Force joined with the Ministry of Education to get potential truants onto buses and off to school on time. Then, truancy officers and the ministry’s school attendance officers joined forces to round up students who lingered in the bus terminals and other places – some engaging in deviant behaviour – during school hours.
Many of these students waited around for “special” buses, mainly the ones which pounded the best reggae and hip hop vibes. The situation so alarmed the society that then Chief Education Officer Dr Wendy Griffith-Watson welcomed the police’s support.
Today, the situation has gone from youthful waywardness to a downright flouting of the law by adults, who themselves have attended school in Barbados, know the value of education, and are aware that truancy nearly always leads to more serious, sometimes unlawful behaviour.
There’s a deafening silence on the part of education authorities on this matter, which was raised since last month when Janelle Jordan pleaded guilty to allowing her son to fail to attend school regularly. The boy was absent for all of the 66 days of Term 1 and all 54 days of Term 2 in the 2010-2011 academic year, and only attended school for five days in Term 3.
The issue, however, caused Acting Chief Magistrate Barbara Cooke-Alleyne to give the country’s Education Act a failing grade for still having under its archaic penalties the maximum fine of $50 for a parent’s failure to ensure a child attends school.
Such a fine in 2012 not only fails as a deterrent, but raises questions about whether this is all a child’s education is worth in Barbados; whether more deeply rooted problems need to be addressed by way of family counselling; and whether Barbadians have taken Government’s assistance of free textbooks and bus fare for granted.   
Truancy is a problem in most modern societies. The United States’ National Center for Education Statistics shows it to be “a growing national problem”, and students found guilty under the law face 20 to 40 hours of community service during after-school hours for a period of up to 90 days, and a fine of up to US$100. In Texas and Oregon, guilty parents may be charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” and fined several hundred dollars, a few days in jail, or both.
Barbados needs, in the American vernacular, to step up to the plate.