Just because Barbadians have been given the green light by government to be “outside” for the Crop Over Festival and other social and cultural gatherings, does not mean that all the dangers brought on by the pandemic have disappeared.
The unintended or consequential effects of the pandemic are playing out in ways that too many of our citizens have not been paying attention.
One of those coming to light this week emanated from the heartbreaking call of a father to one of the popular radio call-in programmes, in which he complained that his son was being denied a place in fifth-form at his secondary school because he had reached the age of 16 and had only qualified to write two Caribbean Examination Certificates (CXCs).
The father explained that his son was kept back when he was in second form and as a consequence, was always one year behind others in his age group.
For most of us who have passed through the Barbados secondary school system, we are aware of those students who “stopped down” because they either were away from school for health or other challenges or were academically weak during the period.
But if we are to be brutally honest, we would admit that some school administrators, including Year Heads, used the “stop down” tool as punishment for disruptive students or those with disciplinary issues.
In a way, it was a form of remand for some students, who were given a taste of serious punishment. For if such a student reached age 16 – the compulsory age for which the law says a child should be in school – and your behaviour warranted, you could be kicked out of school before entering fifth form.
Invariably, children who “stopped down” could easily find themselves in this trap especially if it occurred in third form and all your peers had transitioned to “skirt and blouse” or “long pants and tie” while the affected student was embarrassingly, still in “short pants”.
For boys, the trauma and ridicule were greatest because at that age, puberty sets in and some boys begin to welcome facial hair and other signs of maturity, while facing the humiliation of attending school still in short pants.
In the case of this youngster whose father called in, we are not in command of his details, but this father’s plea to moderator Mr Walter Blackman, generated much empathy.
You may wonder what all this has to do with COVID-19. The connection lies in the social upheaval the pandemic has caused.
The affected father made the case that his son was being disadvantaged because he, like thousands of other children, had their education upended by the pandemic.
Essentially, his argument was that the criteria used to keep children in school could not be applied because of the many disruptions in the teaching and learning processes.
He is correct.
While the Ministry of Education has suggested that children will not be disadvantaged and would be allowed to continue their education, in some cases, being given an extra year, this has not materialized for too many vulnerable students.
The situation was particularly trying on students who were in fourth form when the pandemic lockdowns and disruptions started.
Added to the mix was the seeming unempathetic approach of CXC in the demands and scheduling of exams. The Barbados-based body’s approach was based on the suggestion that students could simply defer exams.
All this is very problematic because students have no guarantee of a place in their secondary school the following year. New students are enrolled after the 11-plus exam and school plants can only accommodate set numbers and still achieve physical distancing.
Some people have also argued that students could write exams privately on their own or with private institutions.
With the economic situation as it is in Barbados for many households, that option may not be feasible.
Without being enrolled in a secondary school, a youngster loses the privilege to travel for free on Transport Board buses; they lose the assistance from the Ministry of Education of subsidized costs to write CXC exams; and then there is the cost associated with paying for private tutelage.
In situations like these, without support from the youngster’s household or an income to support himself, he is likely to be at home or on the block, thus contributing to the cycle of social challenges now plaguing the country.
We celebrate the fact that we are all “outside” again, but the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic still plagues our communities and country.