Crime cure? Try education

By Leonard Bernstein

 In a recent article about President Anthony Carmona by Express Political Editor Ria Taitt, it was noted that President Carmona addressed the issue of crime in his inaugural address on March 18. He suggested that “laws dealing with parental responsibility must be considered to ensure that the child does not become a criminal because of the recalcitrant parent”. An excellent suggestion indeed, except for the details in identifying the “recalcitrant parent” and as to what exactly constitutes any such parent.

As I point out when I write and lecture about early childhood education (ECE), from age three to five, and what I choose to call early, early childhood education (EECE), from birth to age three, Parents cannot give to children what they themselves lack. How can anyone expect a parent or, if a child is fortunate, two parents, who have never themselves been properly parented to raise and parent a child?

Can society really label such parent(s) as “recalcitrant? We have many instances of what can only be considered children having children; do they have the parenting skills not to be labelled “recalcitrant”? Also consider that according to the study done by ALTA that found that only about 45 per cent of adults can read this newspaper with some depth of understanding and that approximately 23 per cent of T&T citizens are illiterate. Can we logically categorise such parents as “recalcitrant”?

If a child has not learned behavioural skills, self-control skills as well as others such as language skills by the age of five, it is most often too late. Consider also that in a well-documented New Zealand study, 24 per cent of the study cohort that had not acquired self-control by age three had, by age 30, acquired criminal records. So, by the time such a child enters the school system, he is too often unreachable and so too late for the semblance of an educational process to give him any chance of being a successful adult. What chance does this child have of himself not becoming a “recalcitrant parent”?

By age five, formal schooling starts and all children are thrown together; low socioeconomic children rapidly learn they can’t compete. Resentment sets in, behavioural problems arise, fights are common and the drop-out problem arises. For children like this, are you not surprised that without the development of any skills that crime is too often the default career choice?

As has been proven in numerous studies of early childhood programmes, the path to these children and their parents is well-proven. It has been shown that the way to reach these children and parents is by sending teams of education specialists, psychologists, social workers, language specialists etc. into the Homes of such children to teach the child and the parent(s) what is necessary for the child to thrive and succeed. Only then will society be able to produce parents who have a chance to give children the tools to not become “recalcitrant parent(s)” themselves. 

The Government has over the past few years spent large sums of money and instituted many programmes to better educate  children in an attempt to produce better citizens.  We had a few years ago the spending of large sums of money to build early childhood learning centres throughout the country. The problem was soon discovered that there was no trained cadre of teachers and specialists to staff these buildings. So the Ministry of Education established an Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme at UTT to train such a cadre. But the teachers placed in the positions created are grossly underpaid. These are the most demanding of all teaching jobs and in order to attract quality student applicants, adequate pay scales have to be established. Teaching algebra is a worthy skill but nothing like the many skills needed to teach small children.  

For another example, the Government funded the hiring of 500 guidance officers and counsellors to combat school dysfunctional behaviour problems and planned a facility in Tobago to house a counselling clinic which would have educational, behavioural and clinical psychologists available on a daily basis. Both these programmes would have been unnecessary if these funds were put into ECE and EECE programmes.

The private sector, with its specialised NGOs, has a role to play in helping to alleviate the problem. For example, the Cotton Tree Foundation (CTF) has a wonderful pre-school programme for low income disadvantaged children in St. Ann’s. While they are very successful in helping these children they unfortunately do not have enough funding to form the necessary specialty teams to go into their homes. The CTF deserves more private personal and corporate contributions and also Government funding. 

Are such ECE and EECE programmes expensive? Of course they are. However, it has also been demonstrated that there is a return on investment (ROI) many years later, many times more than the original cost along with the demonstrable added value societal benefit of reduced crime. 

So what is the problem here? Why are these programmes not universal? Do we not know what is necessary to produce results? Of course we do. Then who should we then pin the label of “recalcitrant parent” on; pin it you yourselves. Instead of having yet again listen to the Minister of National Security tell you his plan to reduce crime, instead of spending billions of dollars on the forces and toys needed by these plans, instead of putting bars on your windows and building high walls around your homes thus creating your own prisons, you should individually and collectively pressure your elected representatives to fund and institute the programmes we know will be successful to produce socially responsible citizens.

Since politicians cannot see beyond the next election, unless a bottom-up demand and democratic-style push is placed upon them, your elected representatives will not act. It is all too easy and self-satisfying to blame the Government all the time; the Government is you and as such, you are responsible for it. If you do not act you will have to place yourselves in the dock for prosecution as you are then the “recalcitrant parent”. Therefore, as the truly guilty party, instead of building your real and virtual prisons around yourselves, perhaps you yourselves should be sentenced to a real prison instead. That would surely change the equation.

* Leonard Bernstein has worked as a 

professor of orthodontics at Boston 

University School of Dental Medicine, an environmental consultant and a medical 

education  consultant

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