One year ago, this column lamented the prevalence of children being late for school. It highlighted a worrying development in which on any school day you can find literally scores of schoolchildren ambling leisurely to school after 9 am, the time at which most schools commence classes.
What was most disturbing is the nonchalance of the latecomers. Those who are late lacked haste in getting to school. It is almost as if they did not care whether they were late or early.
They could not be bothered.
Some of them were eating as they are making their way to school, indicating that they did not have breakfast at home or are supplementing what they had with a few purchases.
Getting to school on time was clearly not one of their priorities.
One year later, not much has changed. A great many children are still going to school late every day. This is most prevalent in the city where droves of the children can be seen walking languidly to school each day after 9:00 am. They seem not to have a care in the world and were unbothered by the possible reaction of their teachers to them arriving late.
Why are these children late for school? Part of the problem with lateness for school is that many children are now retiring to bed later each night. They stay up playing video games, playing the fool or watching television. As such, these children struggle to awake on time to get to school in time for the first bell.
There are other causes for lateness. In some cases, children are forced to do housework early in the morning and this delays their departure for school. But most lateness for school is as a result of a lack of discipline. Too many children simply lack the discipline to be ready in time to leave early for school.
Too many parents do the same for work and the habit is copied. Government workers are notorious latecomers.
Parents have to shoulder the greatest responsibility for their children’s lateness at school. But the Ministry of Education and educators should not be absolved from blame nor should the government.
School is starting too late. The decision to shift the start of the school day to 9 am arose at a time when there was a transportation crisis in the country. As a result, the start of the school day was shifted one hour later to allow for the few vehicles which were then on the roads to transport schoolchildren after the work rush-hour.
The start of the school day should be reverted to 8:00 am. This would allow parents to ensure that when they are leaving for work, the children are also leaving for school. Such a decision, however, requires consultations but it should be examined. An earlier start would force parents, students and teachers to begin their day earlier.
The Ministry of Education’s policy on lateness also leaves much to be desired. Unless the schools exercise more stringent polices lateness will continue. There is no consistent policy when it comes to lateness.
The Ministry of Education’s policy on lateness in school attendance is weak and provides too much discretion to the school’s authorities. The Ministry of Education requires that students who arrive at school after school would have commenced must be allowed to enter the school. The policy states that students can be sanctioned and those students lateness must be recorded.
The decision to grant schools discretion in how students can be sanctioned has led to double and triple standards. Some schools punish children with detention for three or more late attendance each week. Some do nothing. Others lock the gates and require the children to provide an excuse. There have been reports that some schools do nothing other than keep a record of the latecomers.
The Ministry of Education should set a general policy for lateness which should be applied to all schools. Regardless of the school which a student attends, the same policy should be applied. There should not be one standard for one school and a second and third and fourth for other schools.
But how can teachers sanction students for late-coming when students can point fingers at recalcitrant teachers who also arrive late? How can teachers who are latecomers be expected to sanction students who arrive late for school?
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