Home » Literacy » School Absenteeism – Are Children Pushed or Jumping?

I was in Grade 3 when I was sent out of the classroom as punishment. I can’t remember the crime I had committed, but the isolation, shame and fear that gripped me as I stood alone against the red brick wall was devastating. The long stretching verandah of the four-joined classroom blocks looked odd and cold.

It cast a shadow that looked like a big yawning monster.

From time to time, I could hear the other “safe” children in my class and the other classes shouting words and sentences after the teachers in unison.

Outside, the school yard was too deserted to the point of making me feel like an alien.

I waited outside for a very long time until I was no longer sure whether the teacher had told me to leave the classroom or the school.

I felt extremely uncomfortable and very small.

Then I decided to go and seek refuge in the boys’ toilets. The toilet is not a very friendly place to hang around if you have no toilet business. I think I was in the toilet for about 30 minutes, washing hands and pretending to tuck in my shirt and look smart whenever someone walked in. I was soon chased out by one of the caretakers who had come to clean the toilets. I walked out and was confronted by the same hostile school where no child was to be seen outside. I went behind the toilets block and briefly basked in the morning sun, but again the silence haunted and hounded me.

So, I had no choice but to walk out of the gate and leave the school yard.

Once outside, I felt greatly relieved. However, the biggest challenge was that I did not know what to do or where to go. So, I just started walking aimlessly.

I did not know what time of the day it was. All I knew was that I must do something to kill time until I see the other children going home.

That was the first and last time I played truant. I was lucky that child molesters did not spot me. I still remember how relieved my teacher was when she saw me in class the following day. She rebuked me and said, “What happened to you yesterday? I told you to go outside, and not to go home.”

That was easy for her to say, but she did not know how I had felt standing outside the classroom alone.

She had successfully acted in a way that shamed, belittled and degraded me. In a way, she made me feel uncomfortable about school because I began to associate the establishment with punishment instead of aancement.

Teachers, school authorities and the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education must know and understand the psychological and emotional scars of being sent out of the classroom or away from school. I know that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s position is that no child should be sent back home because of unpaid fees. However, it is disturbing to hear that the reality on the ground is children are being exposed to all sorts of dangers because some schools are still sending children away. A few weeks ago, I read a very sad story of a child who was sent back home by a school in Hurungwe. The child did not get home, but was later found dead and her body in a state of decomposition. The report said a herd boy led villagers to the place where the body was recovered, and that the girl’s pants were slightly lowered. This is a serious challenge for child protection and safety and I would like to believe the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education will fully investigate that matter and take appropriate measures to ensure children are safe.

Last week while doing business in town at Eastgate Shopping Mall around 10 o’clock in the morning, I was surprised to see two young girls in school uniform watching a Transformers movie that was showing on several television screens that were on display in a furniture shop. I think one of the girls was about 10 and the other one 12 years old. I didn’t like their appearance and shiftiness, and I could tell by their uniforms that they were not from any of the Harare schools. So, I stopped to ask them what they were doing in town at such an odd hour when others were in school.

Their answer sounded rehearsed because they chorused at the same time, “Tadzingirwa school fees.” I did not believe them, so I told them that the Ministry announced that no child must be sent back home for not paying school fees. They did not bother responding, but instead their eyes went back to the action that was on the TV screens. I demanded that they tell me the truth, but they said what they had told me was all the truth. I asked where they lived, and they told me that they were from Overspill in Epworth. I asked them why they were in town if the school had sent them home. Again, I did not get an answer. It seems they were so absorbed in the film. I asked them where they had got the money to get into town. One of them said her mother had given her the money, and that she had decided to use it to board a kombi into town. I asked her if her mother had said she could use the money to get into town? Again she could not answer me.

When I told them to go home, they did not look moved by my words. They again turned their heads to continue watching the film. I then told them that I was going to take pictures and send them to the newspapers. When I took the first photo, the older girl started to hide behind the younger one. When I realised that I was never going to persuade these young girls to go home, I left. I left with many questions. If they were telling the truth that they had been sent back home for not paying fees, what did the school do to ensure that the children actually go back home instead of getting into town? If these were the only two I had managed to see, where were the other children who had been sent back together with these two? These two girls did not have any books or school bags. If they got run over by cars how would they be identified?

These days most parents are preoccupied with their own success, forgetting that a child’s first school is the home. Maids and teachers will never replace the role of the parent. Parents have a responsibility to check their children’s books to see if a child is attending school regularly. It is also important for parents to check how long children take to get to school and home when they are dismissed.

Children may lie that they had sports or some other activity when they are skiving. The two Epworth girls looked relaxed — a sign that they may be regular visitors to the city. If they are regular visitors to the city, what business do they come to conduct?

It is a fact that Harare is not a village where people look out for each other — but children skipping school are vulnerable and risk being abused as well as other behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse, delinquency and teenage pregnancy.

Child abuse consists of anything, which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do which directly or indirectly harms children or damages their prospect of safe and healthy development into adulthood. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education must find ways of enforcing and ensuring child safeguarding.

I believe it is time the country looked at the reasons why children play truant and come up with realistic solutions to stop that. Some truancy cases have to do with family problems, social pressures or even the school itself. Whatever the reasons are, school children loitering in town when they are supposed to be in school should definitely be somebody’s business.

Victor Hugo once said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

Source : The Herald