Are children in rural schools neglected? Let's find out

The revelations by two primary school principals of parents neglecting their children in schools in rural communities is a major concern.

The Principals for Lalomanu Primary School and Sapo'e and Utulae Primary School, Maulalo Levave Ioane and Lafoga Isaako, told the Samoa Observer of their concerns at increasing child negligence by parents.

Mrs Ioane said the issue of parents neglecting their children has become so bad that it is now a concern to the school administration.

"It's a bit sad because it's becoming a habit for the parents back here in the rural (areas) not to value their children's education through so many reasons," she said.

"First, they are used to the fact that back here in the rural it is safe with no people to harm their children, and not many cars all the time like Apia, that they neglect their children to come to school by themselves."

Her colleague Mr Isaako expressed the same sentiments, and added that based on his own observations as a teacher with experience in both urban and rural areas, parents based in town appear to have a better track record.

“I see the majority of the parents in Apia dropping their children to school properly and maybe because of the busy roads, but here, parents don't care much about their children's education," he said.

"From my experience in these schools here in the rural areas, the children have gotten used to going to school and back home by themselves, which has led to them being influenced by misbehavior that parents wouldn't want their children to be associated with."

Are these incidences of child neglect in two rural schools symptomatic of a bigger crisis that is playing out behind-the-scenes in rural communities? Why are parents abandoning their parental responsibilities at a village setting, which at most times are free of the pressures of living in a city where everything comes with a cost? Is it due to the lack of employment opportunities available to family members as one of the principals highlighted?

There are a lot of questions with no answers and ultimately no solutions. Hopefully, this issue is taken up by the Ministry of Education Sports and Culture (MESC), and a survey targeting schools in rural communities is undertaken to ascertain the extent of the problem. Maybe this is an issue endemic to the communities that play host to the two primary schools, whose principals were interviewed by this newspaper. Or it could be a bigger problem that warrants a survey and then a policy intervention at the Ministry level.

While the interview with the two school principals gave insights on student life and challenges in rural communities, we note one or two takeaways that appear to have become ‘universal practice’ in urban schools in Apia.

Sending very young children to school in the mornings – without a parent or an older family member accompanying him or her – has become ‘normal’. Having driven past some primary schools in the mornings, the tender age of some of the walking students – who are often accompanied by a sibling who is only two or three years older – is shocking and points to the crisis that the two principals highlighted.

Perhaps an open dialogue with parents at the community level – with the Village Councils taking the lead in partnership with the MESC (including teachers) and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) – should be planned for next year before the start of the 2020 academic year. The interaction will be an opportunity for policymakers to determine if child negligence in rural communities is a growing crisis and warrants an intervention by the government.

The dialogue should also be an opportunity for the government to remind parents of their responsibilities to their children and an opportunity for a courteous reminder of children’s rights, and Samoa being a party to a number of international human rights instruments including the Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Let us not forget the work of Samoa’s Ombudsman and the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence, whose report was released in September last year. One of the findings of the inquiry was that 9 out of 10 children in Samoa experience violence in their lifetime. Let’s ensure our homes and their classrooms become conducive for the education of life to take its course for their benefit.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless.

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