I vividly recall awaiting Common Entrance results just before I left primary school a few years ago. We were all assembled in the parking lot and our names were read out followed by the schools to which we had successfully gained entrance. Some cried in sorrow whilst others cheered happily having gotten back the results for which they had sacrificed so much. The one thing we all had in common was that we were leaving primary school and heading to secondary school.
I remember that first day of school walking with my new school bag filled with my new stationery, and my pristine uniform pressed with seams that could cut butter. My hair ribbons fluttered in the breeze as I walked with anticipation and some trepidation towards the gates of my new school. I am not the tallest person in the world so it was no challenge for my overall to rest well below my knees.
Each day we had assembly or prayers and every child had to attend unless there was a religious exemption. Then with a purpose in our strides to our classes we would go. Should a teacher, visitor or prefect enter the room, there seemed to be some universal mechanism that ejected us from our seats and in chorus we greeted that figure of authority. At that time there seemingly was not a challenge for teachers to control their classrooms and contents as rowdy behaviour was hardly seen and promptly managed when it reared its ugly head.
The attention to schoolwork was another detail I recall. Studies took first place and in each class there was stiff competition for the coveted top three positions. And somewhere in the back of the mind was that secret goal of achieving one of Barbados’ top awards. It was not all work as we played hard as well. After the bell pealed heralding lunch and that last piece of sustenance was safely swallowed we poured out onto the playing field like a river that had overflowed its banks. We played like our lives depended on it; little did we know back then our lives really depended on vigorous physical activity. The reverie stopped with just enough time for us to cool down and prepare ourselves for our remaining classes.
The close of day saw another round of prayers prior to dismissal and then we left by various means to our separate abodes, to repeat the cycle the following day.
Fast forward nearly three decades and we have a contrasting story to tell. Whilst I wore my hair on that first day with three bobbles and ribbons, today’s student has a layered bob with bangs and if she is daring enough perhaps a few highlights are found in her coiffe.
No longer are there assemblies where prayers are said and hymns sung, but these have been replaced with meetings where disenchanted students half-listen to leaders, commune with their phones and neighbours and hope to escape as quickly as possible.
No longer do students stand when teachers enter the rooms and I have heard many teachers say nearly half of their lesson is spent trying to either achieve or maintain order in the classroom. I dare to mention the gross disrespect with which students address our teachers, other members of staff, and each other, and the foul language that has become as necessary for life as breathing.
As I took a stroll down memory lane to write this article I remembered seeing several of my classmates stop in the middle of football games to pull their socks back up, which had fallen like unruly potato sacks around their ankles. Today, on our streets before school starts, our students parade on our roads proudly showing their vests through unbuttoned shirts or propel themselves with shirts outside their pants flapping in the wind aided by errant ties. The school belts become parade flags and the powdered necks cause me to look around for the vat of oil prepared for deep-frying.
I was engrossed in a school project one evening and I had not realized that the sky was darkening. I feared for my life as I was sure my father was going to kill me for being tardy. Today, late in the evenings many students representing several schools are still on our streets. Were they all involved in wholesome extra-curricular activities? Is it that they could not be accommodated in one of the just over 60 available buses? Is it that with the prevailing economic clime there was no bus fare and so our students were forced to walk long distances to and from school?
There seems to be a direct relationship between the school grades and the length of school skirts and overalls, as they seem to be decreasing every school year. This equation can also be applied to respect for property, moral values and propriety. It is no longer uncommon to see a female student with a male of various ages, plastered together with a force that can rival gravity, in a corner or right at the bus stop!
I do not claim that the previous generations were perfect. There were teenagers having sex at school, fights after school and persons who left school with no certification. However, these situations have become the new norm and this is the cause for concern.
We are not beyond the point of redemption. Parents have a great role to play in the lives of their children strongly influencing who their charges become. We do not exist in a utopia but there is value in parents and teachers working together to achieve the common goal of productive citizens. We should not be turning out miscreants to torment the other members of society.
I want the best for my children as well as those in whose lives I am involved. As a proud Bajan I want the best for my country’s children. I humbly suggest we pray for them, we teach and correct them, we provide all they need and some of what they want and we love them into their destinies.