Are we failing our children

The writer says parents and caregivers need to take a more responsible role in knowing where their children are and what they are doing. Picture: FILE

When children at upper-primary school level do not to know the meaning of “refugee”, we have a problem on our hands.

This is a clear reflection of an education system failing our children. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, there are over 32.5 million refugees.

Whether children in Fijian schools could identify just one country from where refugees come is doubtful.

They are lucky to be able to name the second largest island in Fiji. Are we giving our children an ethnocentric view of the world?

What is taught in geography and social studies? Children cannot name the second city in Fiji other than the capital.

They have a very limited spatial perception. Children are unable to read with any confidence.

They struggle with comprehension, vocabulary and grammar. On the whole, literacy levels are low and have been for many years, now.

The 2018 Pacific Islands Numeracy and Literacy Assessment Report found … “there is a considerable number of students who continue to struggle with these fundamental skills”.

The English texts on the Fiji English curriculum are almost as old as Methuselah.

Grandparents have read books their children are studying today and that’s if they are at all.

Students are skipping the literature section because teachers are not competent or confident to teach it. The English used by many teachers is poor; this includes both spelling and grammar.

Children are not reading. Books in school libraries are that old that they have an antique smell and appearance. One school cannot even boast a library at all.

Children gain grammar skills, extend vocabulary: spelling and usage as well as augmenting their general knowledge, but there is limited opportunity in our existing schools.

Schools, besides sporting activities and competitions, lack lustre and appeal to children.

Is there any wonder they “step” school or are truant in pursuit of more interesting activities?

Of a group of nine primary aged children all from two families, only two attended school the day they were asked by the writer.

Children out of school are often forced to sell a range of food items from pies to purini (Fijian puddling) in shopping mall car parks.

There is an adult behind every child pursuing this enterprise and the motives are not always favourable.

The children may be told not to return home until all the wares are sold. This is modern day child slavery; nothing less.

There are two dilapidated and totally guttered coaches nearby.

These are frequented by youth who engage in glue sniffing. The local Community Police Post is around 200 metres up the road.

Even closer to the Police Post is an abandoned one-room structure where a family once lived.

It has become the local brothel. It isn’t difficult to witness young, dishevelled girls leaving this premises, on their own or with boys.

The Police Post is ineffective as it does what the majority of the community does: pass a blind eye; not acknowledge these practices are going on.

While there are many workshops, seminars and conferences on substance abuse and child protection, the knowledge to address these issues is not reaching the ground level.

That knowledge stays at the five-star resorts and spas and at the end-of-the-day cocktail sessions while our children continue to be neglected.

Parents and caregivers need to take a more responsible role in knowing where their children are and what they are doing.

The writer recently reported to police a child roaming around aimlessly alone.

While at the station, there was a woman who recognised the description of the child as her nephew.

She was the guardian yet hadn’t reported the child missing for 48 hours after it was realised the child had gone missing. Besides this, neither the police nor the woman was in any great hurry to go to the site where the child was reported to be seen.

Child drowning is another area where children lose their lives due to the negligence of adults in-charge. It is tragic and inexcusable.

All children should be taught to swim, if it saves only one child from the dreadful fate of drowning. Children rely on guidance else they will be influenced by a powerful force: their peers.

Chaos reigns without stability. While peer pressure cannot be avoided, guidance and support can come from adults who hold the wisdom as well as a knowledge and appreciation of what it was to be young and vulnerable themselves. Have we failed our children? It certainly looks like it.

But it is not the end: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford.

• JULIE SUTHERLAND is an educator, social influencer and a regular contributor to this newspaper. She is completing her Masters in Education at FNU. The views expressed are the author’s and not of this newspaper.

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