The deafening cries of a little girl pervaded the air at the College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of T&T (Costaatt) as throngs of students rushed to classes. Many ignored the child’s weeping as she sat alone in the lobby of the college waiting for her mother—a single parent who was beating the books in a classroom nearby. The growing trend of mothers and fathers bringing their children to the college as they seek to improve themselves academically was observed by Dr Gillian Paul, the college’s vice president, academic affairs.
Now Costaatt plans to create history by establishing a day-care centre for parents who are forced to juggle their work and role as parents while accessing tertiary level education. Though Costaatt has been providing a service where children are being supervised at its Port-of-Spain and San Fernando campuses for the past two years, Dr Paul said a permanent childcare centre will be built at Costaatt’s new campus in Chaguanas, to assist mothers and even fathers who can’t rely on family, friends and babysitters to look after their children while they try to improve their academic qualifications.
Construction of the first phase of the campus, which starts in January, will cater to the needs of students who want to access tertiary education, but do not have babysitting facilities or homework centres at their disposal. With an enrolment of 6,190 students at Costaatt’s city campus, approximately ten mothers, from all walks of life, would bring their child or children at the college along with them. At the South campus the figure is less, with only seven mothers bringing their offspring to the campus.
Costaatt’s student population is 11,800.
Costaatt bursting at its seams
Paul first heard the cries of a child in the lobby while leaving Costaatt’s city campus one evening. “I was told that the female student did not have anyone to look after her child,” Paul recalled. At a teacher training session last year, Paul said, the issue of single parents and parents who had no one to leave their children with arose. “We spoke about the increasing presence of parents who were coming into the classrooms in the evening and the kids have no where to stay. So they have the children sitting in the cafeteria. I think it would have been less noticeable if we had our own campus. But we are challenged for space so there is really no space where these kids can go and hang out.”
Most times the child is allowed at the back of the classroom, while the mother or father sits in front of the class listening to a lecturer or completing their assignments. Some children usually stay outside the classroom and do something constructive, mainly homework or revision of their school work. Paul said while some people may view this as a bad practice, research has shown that the sooner you bring a child into a higher education environment, they become attached to learning and studying. “We are in fact nurturing the next generation of Costaatt’s students,” Paul added.
With the city campus bursting at its seams, Paul said they are forced to convert the cafeteria, training room and library into classrooms. The Students’ Guild also gave up their space to accommodate students who have been flocking to Costaatt. “Though we see a predominance of women bringing their children in, we do have fathers. We do not discriminate. I don’t think that we ought to be seen as the one championing everything for the woman in the classroom. It is an outreach and support for the education of our students and they in turn should filter that to their own,” interjected Dr Camille Samuel, vice president of student affairs.
Samuel said that historically women have had to face severe obstacles in life and have also had to battle negative imaging of being fragile and less capable than men in the workplace. “Essentially, women have been undervalued as significant contributors to economic development.”
In attempting to gain an understanding of this, Samuel said, Costaatt’s aim is to support women through their academic journey. She emphasised that it was also about mothers, fathers and families seeking to transition into a better life.
“We fully appreciate, given the increasing divorce rates, that it is not unreasonable to suggest that many fathers also have the added responsibility of caring for their children without family support. We expect to see this trend continuing and even increasing,” Samuel said.
Paul said this was a worrying concern, since divorce creates challenges for children who are accustomed to a stable environment. Samuel said Costaatt was dedicated to providing support services for all its students.
Expectant mother Jomaima Brown, a Guard and Emergency Branch police officer for the past 11 years, admitted that it is difficult to juggle her work, school and family life. Pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice, Brown who has a 21-month-old son and an 11-year-old daughter said lucky for her, she has never brought her kids to school.
She said her mother takes care of her children and she also gets the support of her common-law husband. Brown admitted, however, that even with the level of support she gets it has been hectic to manage her responsibilities, especially when she is rostered to work 24 hours in one shift.
Brown said she knows of parents, mothers in particular, who bring their children to Costaatt and of the sacrifices they have to make. Acknowledging the commitment of some of the parents who attend classes with their children in tow, she added, “They are always on the go with the children at their side.”
She admitted that if Costaatt’s main campus was in Chaguanas, where she lives, she would have brought her children to school since she thinks the environment is conducive for learning. Expected to deliver her baby in December, Brown who will graduate next year, wants to pursue her Bachelors.
Brown once worked as a casino dealer and at a fast food outlet. The climb has been difficult and tough, but Browne has vowed not to give up. She wants to become the country’s best criminologist before she turns 40.