Child rights advocate Faith Marshall-Harris is reigniting debate on the issue of homeschooling, ridiculing the “derisory” $50 fine for parents found guilty of keeping their children away from school and warning of possible abuse and neglect “masquerading as homeschooling”.
Delivering a position paper over the weekend on what should be contained in the laws of Barbados to ensure this country is fully compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UNICEF Children’s Champion for Barbados strongly objected to parents educating their children at home without permission.
And she derided the fine imposed on those found guilty under the Education Act of not sending their charges to school.
“I believe that there should be increased fines for parents for not sending a child to school. Presently it is compulsory under the Education Act for parents to send a child to school, who is under the age of 16, but the fine for not doing so is a derisory $50. This should be substantially increased,” Marshall-Harris told those gathered at the Frank Collymore Hall for the presentation.
Homeschooling was catapulted into the national spotlight in September after two Rastafarian parents were found guilty of breaching Section 41 Clause (b) of the Education Act, Chapter 41 on the grounds that there was no record of their two children — a boy and a girl both under the age of 12 — ever attending formal classes.
Charles Ijui Jah Lashley and his partner Kim Isartes Ibre Jackman were later allowed to walk free when Magistrate Douglas Frederick dismissed the case after the prosecution attempted to add dates to the offences on the day the two were due to find out their fate, much to the consternation of the defence attorneys.
The magistrate also said at the time, the parents had not kept the children home “due to any malice”.
Marshall-Harris did not make specific mention of the case, but it was evident that she was referring to it when she spoke of “much emotional heat” being generated about the issue recently, as she made a case for placing children in a classroom environment.
“It was noted that the State was required to ensure that the homeschooling was of a standard that would ensure the best possible educational opportunities for the children in question,” the former magistrate said as she spoke of outcries by some people about a 12-year-old’s demonstrated ability to read, in an attempt to show that he was receiving the proper level of education at home.
“Is that the yardstick to be used? A 12-year-old reading certain prepared passages from a Bible is not necessarily indicative of his having received a well-rounded education,” she stressed.
“Do we not expect more from a 12-year-old? What right do we as parents have to deprive children of a high standard of education, so necessary to provide them with tools to navigate life in the future?”
The child rights advocate was particularly concerned that homeschooling, in some cases, was depriving the children access to the best training and education, along with the necessary recreation, leisure and social programmes.
She explained that while Article 28 of the CRC, to which Barbados is a signatory, places a responsibility on the State to provide children with the best possible education available, it was necessary “for the State to employ extreme vigilance to leave no room for abuse and neglect masquerading as homeschooling.
“There are many fallacies abounding with regard to homeschooling. It seems to me that we must remove some of the emotionalism from it,” the consultant on family law said.
Marshall-Harris made it clear she was not condemning the practise altogether, but questioned whether those who opted to educate their children at home were capable of meeting all the requirements of such a task.
“One is not suggesting that there should never be any homeschooling, but I ask myself whether a child should be forced to accept a sub-standard level of education, and a lack of social interaction because his or her parents have decided to so deprive them,” she said.
The Rastafarian parents’ troubles are not yet over as they continue to face the possibility of having their children taken from them.
The High Court will on December 13 decide whether it will hear a case brought by the Child Care Board, which is seeking to make the children wards of the court.