Schools to crackdown on truancy come September

Stabroek News
July 30, 2000

Parents be warned! Come September, school welfare officers will be enforcing the truancy laws under a new programme run by the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security.

The programme, called the "Schools Welfare Service" already had 26 officers operating in the ten regions during the last few weeks of the recent school term. Officers on the West Coast Demerara visited a business premises with video games and found five children aged six to 17 years malingering there.

According to Roopnarine Khadoo, permanent secretary in the Human Services and Social Security Ministry, the programme has come about as a result of the ministry's realisation that many family problems have led to truancy.

He stressed that the programme aimed to encourage and educate parents about the benefits of their child's attendance at school. But he added that if parents continued to defy regulations, laws were in place to prosecute them. The programme was now looking for international donor assistance for the coming year as funds were not included in the ministry's budget, Khadoo said.

Khadoo reported that in addition to the 26 welfare officers, a teacher from each primary and secondary school was to be chosen for training in social work. This training will include conflict resolution between children, parents and teachers and identifying children susceptible to suicide. The teacher will also monitor and refer cases of chronic absenteeism and late arrival to the welfare officers for their action.

The officers will help in obtaining birth certificates for children although, according to the Education Act of 1975, the lack of a birth certificate is no excuse for a child to be absent from school. Section 61 stipulates that "A head teacher who satisfies the Chief Education Officer that he is unable to ascertain the correct date of birth of any pupil may fill up a form showing the names of the parents of such a pupil, the district in which he was born and the approximate date of birth and forward the same to the CEO for verification by the Registrar General. In the event of any birth certificate being untraceable... it shall be the duty of the CEO having regard to the appearance of the pupil... to decide the question of age."

Khadoo said the school welfare officers will also examine cases of those poor parents who claim not to have the funds for uniforms and books. These cases will be referred to the Board of Poor Law Commissioners in each region for evaluation.

Additionally, the officers will observe the discipline and behaviour of the children while in school, and examine the use and abuse of corporal punishment.

Children who have to travel long distances will be helped in getting transfers to nearby schools.

According to the Education Act, welfare officers are duty bound "to ascertain and report to the CEO every parent of every child resident within his district who has failed or is omitting to cause his child to receive efficient elementary instruction in reading, writing and arithmetic.

"Any attendance officer or authorised person may enter any yard building or place between the hours of 6:00 am and 5:00 pm of any day in the week except Sunday and there make inquiries as to any child residing or employed." The law, reflecting its age, notes that anyone who hinders the officer in his work is liable to a fine of $30!

"If the parent of a child habitually and without reasonable excuse omits to provide efficient elementary instruction for his child, an attendance officer or other authorised person may prefer a complaint against the parent before a magistrate; and the magistrate... shall make an order that the child do attend some school.

"If a child is found habitually wandering or not under proper control or in the company of rogues, vagabonds, disorderly persons or reputed criminals he may be taken into custody by an attendance officer or by any police constable..."

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