Looking after the whole child
The call for social workers at every level of the education system is a timely restatement of a burning need at our schools. This latest call from Dr Emmanuel Janagan Johnson, a lecturer in social work at UWI, St Augustine reported in yesterday’s Sunday Express comes at a time of deepening distress among our youth as evidenced by the many indicators of a group in crisis, including violence.
Drawing on the results of a recent pilot study conducted by his team at UWI, Dr Johnson noted the clear link between school dropouts and crime and warned that unless the problem is tackled at the school end, the problem of youth crime will get worse. We couldn’t agree more.
Decades ago, when the school system underwent massive expansion at the secondary level, one of the proudest boasts was that every school would be equipped with guidance counsellors with the training to look after the psychological needs of our young people. As with so much else, we had the money and the buildings, but the content delivery was seriously under-planned resulting in a level of dysfunction with which successive administrations have never quite come to grips.
The result was that the more our young people needed guidance and psychological support, the less it has been delivered to them.
While we do not dispute the investment in free laptops to first form pupils as a means of connecting them to the resources of online education, it says something about our values that our education authorities could so blithely skip over the human needs of our young people while not batting an eyelid over acquiring the latest technology.
There are deep-seated needs among our children, all the way from the preschool level up, that the school system through the Ministry of Education is best-placed to handle. Our schools need learning diagnosticians, speech-therapists, psychologists, mental health specialists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, nutrition and career guidance counsellors, among others. Despite all our talk to the contrary, however, our education system remains fixated on lessons and exams with minimal interest in the whole child.
In this day and age, there should be no need for arguing the case for holistic education of the child; there is already enough convincing evidence around. The changes wrought on Trinidad and Tobago society, especially since the 1974 oil boom, have dramatically altered the old lifestyle of knitted communities and extended families. In all income groups, not just the poor, the family is under siege. While our focus is largely on youth violence and crime, especially in low income areas, many young people are suffering silently, without support, only to be heard when it is too late.
Not too long ago, the Ministry of Education spearheaded a national consultation where many of these issues would have been raised. If the government is serious about transformation of the education sector, we would expect a serious investment in the psychological health of our children.