Any male joker can make a child, but it takes a father to raise one. So, the fact that many women have raised children without fathers to be self-sufficient and caring citizens doesn’t undermine the virtues and critical importance of fathers’ loving care and control in the holistic development of children. There’s abundant evidence to show that female-headed households are within the lower socio-economic groups and are vulnerable to poverty and other societal ills.
UNICEF had done a Situation Analysis in collaboration with the Government in 2017, which mentioned that “women are over-represented in lower-income brackets” and that much poverty is “concentrated in households headed by women.” That report cited a larger than average household size of five for the most deprived compared to two in the wealthiest group. The national average was four children per household.
Among poor communities, there is psychological deprivation, as well as illiteracy, substandard living conditions, high exposure to addiction, crime and violence, poor parenting—lack of care and control of children, and school drop-outs. The analysis indicated that apart from emotional reasons, some single mothers enter relationships for financial support. When the relationships end, there may be a “revolving door,” exposing the children to dangers. The report alluded to the intergenerational nature of poverty, and that teenage mothers were likely to have been the children of teenagers.
Teenage pregnancies were reported at 3,777 between 2014 and 2018 (JSC Parliament 17/4/19). More than likely, that figure had been underestimated if it hadn’t included private institution births.
Based on the 2011 census, of the approximately 401,382 households in T&T, the geographic distribution of female-head households was wide-ranging from 45 per cent in Port of Spain, Juan/Laventille 40 per cent, San Fernando 38 per cent, Diego Martin 37 per cent, Tunapuna/Piarco 36 per cent to Sangre Grande 31 per cent, Chaguanas 31 per cent, Siparia 30 per cent, Couva/Talparo/Tabaquite 26 per cent, and Penal/Debe 24 per cent etc. An updated census isn’t likely to show much change in those statistics.
In another report, the Children’s Authority mentioned that crime and delinquency might start with children in primary school (nine–11 years) more so boys. Notably, the most delinquent acts of children “take place within the school,” mainly fighting, but there is a “high prevalence of sexual victimization.”
We see the images every day of mostly youth of African descent charged for murders and other violent crimes. These are alarming truths, and there’s an increasing trend. Although, the number of them is still very small, under one per cent of their population. Critical interventions are needed. There is the outrage about education inequity and calls to do away with the Concordat, which is the agreement between the Government and the denominational schools that allows the Government to fill 80 per cent of the places in these schools based on Secondary School Assessment (SEA) grades. There’s a constant focus on the 20 per cent, not 80 per cent. But the Concordat gave most children, whose parents wouldn’t have been able to afford high school fees, the opportunity to attend the best performing schools. If they reverted to private fee-based status, there would be a dire shortage of places for thousands of children. That isn’t to say there may not be issues in the selection of the 80 per cent.
Historically, most of the students who had achieved higher grades had attended single-sex denominational schools. In the girls’ schools, the teachers are mostly female; in some, 100 per cent. In the boys’ there is a balance of male and female teachers. Student violence and disruptions are minimal and manageable. Drop-out rates are next to zero. These schools strictly enforce policies, and parents and students have no option but to adhere to the rules. There’s excellent student engagement through teacher/student bonding, proper maintenance of the physical environment, reinforcement of traditional values of discipline, caring, respectfulness, and excellence among staff and students. School boards are committed, and parents support the schools.
The Government and the Ministry of Education are aware of the complex issues of crime, education, and social inequity. They have the research reports, and MOE’s had identified its failings in the Draft Education Policy.
The answer to inequity in education rests with the MOE’s ability to ensure sound management of government schools and to make them all desired choices for children. Strategic interventions to shut down the engine rooms of crime, and to transform the education system, ensuring that no child’s learning needs are neglected are needed, now. That would require legislative changes to the education system that’s caught in a colonial time warp.
To be continued