After two years, our children are all finally back in the classrooms. They have lost a lot over that time, not only academically but perhaps more importantly, in terms of their socialisation.
The wholesome family home is, of course, the primary place for the education of the child. Schools are next. They teach vital skills and impart knowledge that will be useful for the rest of the child’s life.
However, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are also essential for a child’s all-round development. Participation in sports, the creative arts, scouts, girl guides and cadets, engaging in charitable work with the elderly and differently abled, are all helpful in the child’s understanding that as adults, they have rights which others must respect and equally, they have duties and responsibilities which they must discharge to others in their communities and the wider society.
In Trinidad and Tobago, we have societal needs which are peculiar to our multiethnic, class and status-driven society. We also have historically driven attitudes to sex and sexuality, including what masculinity entails.
Our children are taught to navigate these social fault lines in ways which are not always constructive. In fact, they are sometimes not taught formally at all, but are left to discover how they should behave from observing parents, older friends, and relatives, or from social media.
It is an unfortunate fact that the behaviours displayed by some of our most prominent social actors, in Parliament and outside, jar with the behaviours that our children are encouraged to display. Adults may then be seen as hypocrites.
It is also unfortunate that the behaviours that our children see in the home or hear about, the acts of domestic or family violence, the attitudes to work and authority, the lack of discipline around personal hygiene and community cleanliness, also jar with the messages they receive elsewhere.
As a result, the violence, coarse language, and bullying we see in some schools, as well as the disrespect of the environment and community assets, should occasion no surprise.
We have a wonderful opportunity at this particular moment in time. First, the pandemic has revealed a great deal about what is possible and what is not effective in online learning.
Second, the Ministry of Education is engaged in consultations around the plans for schooling and education to 2027, including the Concordat.
Third, the Church is engaged in its Synod process which must engage and grapple anew with the questions around Catholic education at primary and secondary levels.
Fourth, we have a better understanding of the demands and challenges of a digital economy, in respect of work, travel, and leisure, and the digital society, in respect of citizen engagement and norms around privacy.
We have right now the opportunity, if we are brave enough, to rethink the whole business of education and how it can be refashioned as a potent instrument for creating a harmonious, productive, and equitable society.
A harmonious society does not mean the absence of conflict or difference. It means that, beginning with our children, we teach and learn mutual respect and how to manage and de-amplify conflict so that it does not escalate into physical or verbal violence.
Education is also about preparing children, and some adults as well, for the world of work and what it means to be diligent, loyal, and productive in the workplace.
The system should be organised and resourced to allow each child and each person to realise his/her God-given talents and potential.
An equitable society is one which, even as it caters for and celebrates excellence, is attentive and responsive to the needs of those who are less able and lifts everyone up to a decent standard of living.
Carpe diem! We must seize the time –because we may be running out of time.