Don’t let up on anti-truancy programme
Guyana Chronicle
June 24, 2003

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THE STORY has been told somewhere before - about Tom Sawyer skipping school for his adventures on the Mississippi River with Huckleberry Finn.

It may be a popular story for Literature students. But any attempt to equate Tom Sawyer’s adventures with students in Guyana skipping school for an adventurous “skulking” around town wouldn’t mesh. Attributing truancy to socioeconomic woes or family unit troubles may have a place in debates.

In reality, however, truancy is hardly excusable.

Among other things, it’s about children falling behind, giving up in their studies, not learning to develop habits of completing assignments, and not getting to assigned places on time. More intriguingly, truancy, often called "a gateway crime", is strongly linked to the likelihood that a child will commit crime in the future. When children don’t get the education they need, families and communities suffer because chronic truancy predicts that a juvenile is headed for other kinds of anti-social and destructive behaviour.

Yet, for all that the Ministries of Education and Human Services and Social Security are doing - having inaugurated an anti-truancy campaign and implemented other stay-in-school initiatives, children up to yesterday could be seen in various parts of Georgetown “killing time,” if you will, instead of spending their time in the classroom.

Boys could be seen at Nintendo game centres, in municipal markets and even at car parks, while girls, some in uniform, could be seen moving around aimlessly in pairs, either window-shopping or conversing with school dropouts or whoever.

Although truancy revolves around a pupil being absent from school without a valid excuse, it isn’t a problem confined only to a child. Truancy equally underlines the failure of teachers and government in general to assure children’s regular school attendance and high academic performance. But truancy is more often than not symptomatic of family dysfunction. Many parents don't help their children because they don't understand the assignments their children take home. Others encourage their children to skulk by asking them to do errands or to go begging for money when they should be in school.

Academic performance is directly proportional to how important that performance is to parents. Children need to know that their parents and adults close to them think homework is important. If they know their parents care, children have a good reason to complete assignments and turn them in on time.

Parents of the truants caught in anti-truancy campaign, as well as those not yet apprehended, must be made to recognize that they are responsible for the actions of their children, and that they have an important role to play in preventing further loitering by their children. The best way to do that is for the government to give the courts powers to deal effectively with parents who willfully neglect their responsibilities - or who need help and support in fulfilling them.

The two ministries involved in the anti-truancy campaign should acquire and review anti-truancy laws and daytime loitering ordinances enacted in other countries and enact and enforce them here. A law should also be enacted to obligate school administrations to develop ways to share classroom activities with parents/families. Parents and teachers must think of themselves as partners in the education of the child. Parents can help by making sure their children go to school rested, fed and ready to do their job, which is learning.

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