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The challenges, stresses of back to school

Monday, September 03, 2018

The start of a new school year is always challenging and exciting. It can also be extremely stressful.

Parents at the lower end of the economic ladder especially those with several children in school can find the economic burden well nigh unbearable.

That's the reason the Government keeps emphasising that though schools are often stretched in terms of finding resources to keep operations going, no child should be turned away or discriminated against because of an inability to contribute monetarily.

It's often said, and readily recognised, that a solid education is the best way for Jamaican children to battle their way out of poverty and ignorance. For its own good, the society needs to give them every chance, no matter the cost.

Those playing the most crucial role here are teachers who are making great sacrifices with very little to show for it.

For many teachers, the greatest satisfaction comes not from any material rewards but from seeing their charges grow and achieve.

Sadly, many of Jamaica's best teachers give up and move on to greener pastures abroad. That consistent migration, we are aware, has contributed to chronic shortages of teaching skills in areas of greatest need such as Mathematics and the natural sciences.

Jamaicans live for the day when long sought after economic growth and consolidation will provide the resources to pay teachers, nurses, doctors, police, and other public servants' salaries that more truly reflect their worth.

However, for now and the immediate future, we must implore our teachers to put service above self, hard though it is. To borrow from the president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) Dr Garth Anderson, teachers are being asked to “remain true to (their) awesome responsibility” and recognise that theirs is “the task to inspire and bring hope, even in times of great challenge”.

We note the pledge by the Ministry of Education to maintain teacher training opportunities.

Education Minister Dr Ruel Reid says that over the next two years 1,140 scholarships will support training of teachers of Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, Technical/Vocational subjects and engineering.

We are told that 235 teachers will also receive in-service training to upgrade their qualifications.

An aspect of back-to-school which can't be ignored is the mental health of children in what is an increasingly complex world.

The dizzying speed of communication technologies and the arrival and evolving of social media have led to a state of affairs which most adults never contemplated 20 years ago. The reality today is that many people not just children are struggling to cope.

We note concerns that what is referred to as excessive social media habits may be exacerbating mental illness among young people including promotion of the idea of harming self or even suicide as a solution to problems.

Note the warning from clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell as she discussed the effect of bullying in cyber space.

“Many young people's definition of themselves today is linked to social media. When this sense of self is eroded by cyber bullying, it could result in self-harming behaviour,” Dr Bell said.

As if the burden on stressed-out, overworked, under-paid educators was not heavy enough as it is, they must now join parents in guiding social media behaviour by their charges. Jamaicans owe teachers a huge debt.