Over to you, Dr Rowley

Dr Gabrielle Hosein -
Dr Gabrielle Hosein -

Diary of a Mothering Worker –

Entry No. 506

There’s been broad criticism of the Prime Minister’s June 1 comments on the education system, principally his baffling reference to an obsolete time when access to secondary school was more limited.

However, let’s agree that students are entering secondary school unprepared.

This was apparent in the 2022 SEA results when 9,000 of 19,079 students writing the exam scored less than 50 per cent, with 5,305 scoring 30 per cent or below.

The Ministry of Education's website lists remedial education initiatives taken since 2022 to address some students’ lack of readiness for secondary school. However, there also needs to be a strategy to reach those who have already dropped out.

In April, the Guardian reported that 151 primary school and 2,663 secondary school students had dropped out of government schools between 2020-2022. The majority of these were from Port of Spain and the East-West Corridor.

For those who have returned to school from the tens of thousands whose education was negatively affected by the pandemic, it is possible the ministry's post-pandemic approach will help their successful reintegration into academic or vocational schooling.

However, keep in mind the Express's Saturday editorial, which reminded us that between 2012 and 2019, 2,980 boys and 2 094 girls dropped out of primary and secondary schools, and also of the possible consequences today.

If we expect these numbers to be higher for the period beginning with the pandemic in March 2020, then a national approach for out-of-school youth is essential. This is not just about sport or military programmes, but systematic tracking and intervention.

It also requires a gender-transformative approach which recognises that there are different risks for girls and boys who have poor educational outcomes or have left school.

The PM already observed that boys are leaving school “totally unprepared for a responsible life.”

He was silent on government’s assessment of what is happening with girls.

Yet loss of learning and dropping out of school are pipelines to unplanned pregnancy in girls, just as much as prison is for boys, because these are gendered vulnerabilities.

There’s a stereotypical concern with boys, who depart from education, training and the legal labour market and enter gangs, because they become a social threat as they seek to fulfil patriarchal norms of male wealth, dominance, and violence.

Across the state, officials remain loyal to such patriarchal ideals, despite the fact that they benefit as well as harm boys and men. Nonetheless, concerns about boys are prioritised as girls are considered less vulnerable or it’s assumed enough is being done for them.

In a 2022 UNICEF report on 2020 and 2021 surveys in Latin America and the Caribbean, including TT, more girls were reported as having increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety than boys, greater difficulty accessing healthy food than boys, and less physical activity.

Lower educational attainment was also directly connected to adolescent pregnancy. We know, therefore, that among students who have dropped out or who will not be able to secure academic certification, those girls have a higher likelihood of pregnancy.

This occurs because they begin sexual activity earlier as part of seeking stability and status, because early sexual activity has also been linked to forced sexual initiation, because they have difficulty negotiating contraception (only a minority of sex with adolescent girls involves condoms), because early childbearing is seen as an economic survival strategy (and because men impregnate adolescent girls to "tie them down"), and because they are living in a world where the state does not consider that a national schooling system should protect vulnerable girls from such predictable outcomes.

Girls aged 19 or younger account for around nine per cent of all births in TT. Family violence, child sexual abuse, poverty, incomplete schooling and lack of sexual and reproductive health education are drivers.

As Dr Rowley himself observed, “We have a large chunk of parents who are not ready for parenting.” This, as much as boys’ turn to guns, requires systematic intervention.

Yet Ministry of Education policy does not connect the dots between low educational attainment, gendered risks and state responsibility.

The best example is the present administration’s refusal to use health and family life education curricula for primary and secondary schools as a protective strategy.

Where else should we reach the nation’s adolescents? How else do we prevent them from becoming parents before they are ready? How to stop a generational cycle if we won’t educate about sexuality or gender-based violence? Over to you, Dr Rowley.


"Over to you, Dr Rowley"

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