Drs. Jean Marie Molina
St. Eustatius stands yet again at a historical breaking point. The continuing low (academic) achievement of children has forced the community at large to take a critical look at the core of its educational system. Current debates center on a possible change of the language of instruction from Dutch to English. However both supporters and critics agree that change must come if the Statian child is going to succeed (academically). This contribution does not focus on the discussion of the language of instruction. Instead, the author has chosen to highlight the dilemmas in the education system from a pedagogical or rather child-centered point of view. The aim: to focus on aspects that have an equal if not more profound effect on academic performance than the language of instruction. First off this article deals with the influence of parents, followed by the community and educators. It will end with some conclusive remarks and recommendations on how to the improve the current situation.
The role of parents
Ultimately parents are responsible for their child’s development. Various research outcomes as well as community studies have shown that parenting practice has a strong influence on a child’s life. Parents are also their child’s first teacher. Children are born with an almost instinctive need to acquire knowledge. From the moment their eyes are open, they are constantly seeking new ways to learn and grow. Within the first five years of its life, a child makes an incredible learning journey. Most child psychologists, parenting experts and educationists agree that these first five years of a child’s life are of vital importance to its future development. In these years, children learn to know themselves, their surroundings and their community. They learn rules of socially acceptable behavior. They also internalize the cultural norms and values, presented to them by their parents.
A child’s attitude towards learning is an aspect that is strongly influenced by parental practices. In other words, parents are the ones who teach their children whether learning is something positive or negative. Something to love or something to be shunned. Parents are also responsible for creating a home environment that is beneficial to learning. By providing their children with (educational) toys and books as well as having discussions, going on excursions, and exploring nature, parents instill in children the necessity of seeking knowledge and understanding the world in which they live. Such experiences prove vital when children attend school. When brought up in homes where learning is spontaneous and natural, children do better academically than their peers whose home environment is less stimulating.
Parents’ belief systems also have great impact on how well their child does in school. Fan and Chen (1999) found that parental aspiration or expectation for education achievement are strongly related to academic achievements. This means that whether a child does well in school depends to a large extent on whether their parents want or expect them to succeed. The relationship between these two factors is a logical one. Children usually want to please their parents.
In their early years they learn that doing what makes their parents happy, makes them happy too. So if their parents provide them with an home environment where learning is seen as something important, expect them to accept this as a given fact and to do well in school, they will.
The influence that parents have on their child’s learning experience does not stop there. In his study Jeynes (2005) found that parental involvement is related to all academic variables. He states that parents’ behaviour, belief systems and attitudes help determine how well their child does in various subjects, as well as their cognitive development during school. Parents who raise their children in a loving, and rich learning environment are investing in their child’s scholastic success.
The role of the community
Not all children are raised in loving and healthy environments. Some children grow up in a home environment that is stressful. Common factors within a stressful home environments include domestic violence, low verbal and social interactions, physical and psychological abuse and neglect. These factors cause stress in children, and subsequently hamper academic achievement. However, such situations need not limit the child’s learning experience nor outcome. A study published in 1996 by the Journal of Negro Education found that African-American high school seniors were able to achieve in school despite stress factors in their home and social environment .The key lay in the development of resilience. Resilience refers to a child’s ability to cope with and overcome hurdles in its development. In the case of the African American students three factors significantly influenced their resilience. Two of which will be discussed here. First, “interaction with and involvement of committed, concerned adults and educators in their life”. Second, “the development of two personality traits: perseverance and optimism”.
When a child has access to persons who care for him or her and who can take over the nurturing role in their life, they develop resiliency. If we were to extrapolate the findings of this report to the Statian context we could draw the same conclusions. In order for the Statian child who faces stress factors in the home environment to become resilient he needs concerned adults and educators in his life. This is where the community plays its biggest role. When members of the community open up their homes, and make it possible for a child to have a safe place where it can be itself they are investing in that child’s future. Through (after) school projects, extracurricular activities and a general environment of warmth and acceptance, the community acts as a net which catches and launches the falling child back into its rightful place. The Statian child needs adults who are willing to work with him or her, to teach and lead preferably by example.
Besides this it is also important for children to be taught perseverance and optimism. The modern world we live in, teaches children to seek instant gratification. If they want something, they should have it immediately. This approach has caused that many children have not learned the importance of perseverance. Of not giving up, but rather keeping at something diligently until it bares fruit. Success in school or anywhere else requires long and hard work. When children live in a world surrounded by adults with a sound work ethic, they learn that almost everything is worth it in the long run. When the government and leaders are dedicated to their tasks and they work at it with all their might, constantly keeping their eyes on the desired results, they teach perseverance by example. The same goals are achieved when leaders remain optimistic despite things not always going their way. If they believe in a cause, and work for it, it shows character and determination. But more importantly, it instills soundness of character in our children. A trait they will need if they are ever to be (academically) successful.
The role of the Teacher
There is a constant discussion on whether teachers have a child raising duty. However, whether we may want to accept it or not, teachers play an important role in a child’s learning, growth, and development. Teachers share knowledge of the world with children. They are in a position to form a child’s mind. They are often role models to their students and as such are looked to for help and guidance. In order for a teacher to educate a child, he or she must genuinely care for and be interested in that child’s welfare. Children, especially young ones are very intuitive and can sense how adults feel about them. The feedback they receive when they read their teacher is what will ultimately decide if and to what extent they open up themselves to them. A teacher who is generally concerned about a child helps it to be academically successful. When a teacher believes a child can learn, it is reflected in his or her attitude, behavior and speech towards the child. A child who feels his or her teacher cares about him, is empowered, feels capable and does better in school.
How do these factors improve Statia’s education System?
Educating a child is a cooperative task. It only yields fruits when all stakeholders in a child’s life work together towards the goal of development and (academic) success. The relationship between parents, the community and educators forms the foundation of a sound education system. It provides the perfect nesting ground for (academic) excellence. Parents, who love their children and are concerned about their welfare, will be involved within the community and their child’s school. They have an open and trusting relationship with the teachers. They are aware of their child’s needs and make the necessary adjustments in the home environment to ensure that those needs are met. The same goes for the community and for teachers. A community that cares about its children makes sure it is a safe place for them to live in. Adult interactions with children are tainted with warmth and appreciation. Policies are in place to make sure that children are afforded many learning opportunities. Community programs are culturally relevant and focused on enhancing the child’s sense of value and belonging. The community must also take care of and respect the child’s parents. Parents who feel accepted and supported by the members of the community are less stressed. They know they can count on the support of their families, loved ones, other concerned adults and the community at large when they need them. This stimulates their belief in themselves and their ability to properly raise their child.
The same goes for teachers and schools. If children in Statia are to do well in school, there must be good quality teaching material, which takes into account ethnic diversity and the cultural background of the child. The curriculum must not be only aimed at gaining formal knowledge. But must also include tacit knowledge. There must be room for the development of a positive identity, self-image and self-esteem. The Statian child must know where he comes from so that he can decide what his place is to be in the world. Teachers must be loving, patient, determined, optimistic and when necessary critical. Their job is to point out to parents where there is need for improvement while simultaneously working with parents to bring about the improvement in question.
To do this, teachers need professionalization trajectories that are school based and school focused. Education leaders must be well seasoned in didactics. In laymen’s terms: they must know what they are doing. But more importantly they must care about what they are doing. Teachers need the support of good quality and well placed education policies to ensure that they can do their job the way it needs to be done. They also need a support system where they can raise their grievances as well as gain support to implement their education programs.
If the education system of Statia is to work for the Statian child it needs to be overhauled. The need for overhaul is not to undo the works of others but rather to fortify and expand the foundation. All parties who play a major role in the child’s welfare must work together in pursuit of what should be their common goal: a bright future for Statia’s child. Each child in Statia is unique and different. This uniqueness must be imbedded into the education system if it is to work for him or her. There must be support and a profound willingness to work together present in all parties. The dynamics of the Statian culture must be taken into consideration when the curriculum is constructed. The Statian child must know himself if he is to know the world. Cultural identity and cultural context are very necessary in the curriculum, as they contribute significantly to learning experiences and success.. Besides formal knowledge, the curriculum must teach personality traits such as perseverance, optimism, positive self-esteem and a positive self-image.
The task may seem daunting but it need not be. Statia has a rich diaspora as well as a vast amount of unused resources which can be consulted and pooled to support and provide relevant expertise and implementation. Men and women willing to invest their talent, to ensure (academic) success for Statia’s children. A good start on the road to creating a tailor made education system which sufficiently prepares the Statian child for his or her place in the world could be an educational convention where all stake holders, as well as other interested persons come together to discuss, decide and plan how the education system in Statia should be constructed, and what the role of each stakeholder should be. Simultaneously the subject of the language of instruction can be dealt with. Thereby ensuring a holistic approach to the various bottlenecks in the present education system. By coming together, with an attitude of optimism and perseverance, all major stakeholders can invest and protect the best of Statia; it’s children.
(Jean Marie Molina was born and raised on Statia, has studied child development at the University of Leiden and works as coordinator “praktijkgestuurd leren” at the “Hogeschool Rotterdam”, she is married and has two children.)