Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
IT’S ONLY week three of school. Last Friday, Ziya forgot her science books at home even though school bag packing was supervised. We learned to double check until her seven-year-old self gets it right. On Monday, I packed an award-winning healthy meal, but forgot her water on the kitchen counter. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than forgetting to pack her lunch cutlery a few days earlier. Next week, I’ll be happy just to get her to school in the right sneakers on PE days.
As a working parent, I might not perfectly manage the challenges of keeping track of multiple minuscule moving parts. Still, I’m deeply committed to a bigger picture: paying attention to what Zi learns and how, and nurturing her curiosity and interest in learning.
There’s a purpose to learning that involves being organised, focused and high-achieving, but there’s also a purpose that aims at courage, problem-solving, co-operativeness and creativity.
Invest in education. It’s a simple idea. It’s what enables children to grow up to solve national problems. It enables men and boys wishing to meet breadwinner ideals to access higher, stable and legal incomes. Made a priority for women and girls, it’s the best way to both create a chance for greater gender justice and tackle family poverty. Finally, it’s the best way for a country to be a player, and to create citizens who are also path-breaking leaders, in the global economy.
Yet, it’s not simply about investing in education. The national budget for education is one of the highest sectors. Most parents invest in extra lessons for their children. Still, something is missing.
We know this from the failure rates, both at SEA and CSEC levels. We know this from the paucity of a powerful youth movement able to hold adults accountable for our crimes against their generation. We know this from the early ages at which boys become engaged by criminality, gangs, and the court and prison system, and from their far lower rates in tertiary education.
We know this from teen girls’ continued higher rates of vulnerability to HIV, sexual violence and unemployment. We know this from the hesitance of incoming university students to think independently, their difficulties writing well, and their limited sense of their degree as a public good that comes, not for free, but with civic responsibilities to a wider region.
Children don’t all learn by sitting and writing, which is the predominant way that we teach, leaving those needing different learning approaches cast as troublesome or incapable. We think of schools as teaching discipline before we think of them as our best chance for teaching youth empowerment, and the skills necessary to transform authoritarian power in politics, patriarchal ideals in families, and insecurity in communities.
The last time conscious youth rose up was 1970, and we should ask ourselves, how can schooling both create another generation of inventors and entrepreneurs as well as activists and agitators? How can we rethink schooling entirely so that school is the one place that students are fighting to go, especially when family or community hardship are part of their realities?
How can we make sure that the poorest really do have the same chances as the rich, such that it doesn’t matter what school a student attends, for there is equality of opportunity regardless of the conditions and place of one’s birth? And, when youth fall through the cracks, ending up in prisons, how can prisons become another site for education, in which those who enter are never going to return unless it is to transform, teach, mentor, and inspire?
Schools that excite and embolden rather than bore and alienate. Prisons that mirror universities rather than cages. An end to a system that has institutionalised extra lessons for those who can pay. Learning through active engagement with the culture, creativity, landscape and ecosystem around us. Education that creates children who can challenge us on our hypocrisies, greed, waste and carelessness, and grade us on meeting their generation’s needs.
If any of this seems unrealistic, it’s because we have to imagine a more inclusive vision as both possible and necessary.
We want girls and boys across the nation to feel loved and safe, welcome learning and want us to be proud. Therefore, our investments in their excellence and empowerment need to recognise what our own improvements must look like. Some days, they might be in the wrong shoes, but there’s a purpose to learning which we can still get right.