Another article found in The Malaysian Insider

Empty schools, crowded jails

by Cheryl Ann Fernando

Just before the school holidays, I made a few dreaded phone calls. I had to ask my student’s parents if their child still wanted to continue school.

These students have been absent for long and despite the school’s attempt to call or visit them, many still refused to come to school.

One parent, in resignation, told me that he’d come to school to sign the letter so we can remove his child from our school list. I asked if there was anything else we could do, or if I could speak to him one more time.

“Thank you, teacher, for your effort. We both tried but if he doesn’t want to continue school, then we’ll let him be,” was the only answer I got.

I couldn’t help but feel partially responsible for these dropouts. I didn’t have it in me to support them and at least see them through their final year in school.

The school didn’t have the capacity to support them. In the community they lived in, many students dropped out before completing their formal education. These students needed the extra help but there was nothing present to help them. As a result, the child makes his own decision which often leads to leaving school.

Countless research has been done on why a child decides to drop out. From socioeconomic reasons to learning difficulties, we are all aware of the causes.

Perhaps, the most evident reason a child chooses to leave school is because he does not fit into the traditional classroom and school mould.  As a teacher, I’ve come to realise that our education system is perfect for average students.

We have what it takes to push them to be better and maybe even to reach the above-average standards. We can cater to any student, as long as he or she fits into a predetermined mould.

We cannot deal with the students who fall behind. As our education system is continuously progressing and adopting new policies and strategies, we keep forgetting our struggling students.

While we talk about including information technology into our syllabus, more subjects and a rigorous curriculum, we forget that somewhere in a class, there is a student struggling to read at 17 years old.

If you ask me what my students need the most, I will tell you that they just need basic literacy and numeracy skills. They need to know that being literate is empowering and above it all, they need a system that will help them be the best they can be, in their own capacity.

As long as our children are ignored, our greatest problem will soon be the large number of students who are illiterate and involved in social ills.

I remember asking a student once why he isn’t coming to school and his simple answer was that he was hungry. He would rather go out to look for scrap metal than to sit in school. How do you tell a 13-year-old who is hungry that coming to school is more important than working for some food?

I know, for a fact, that many schools work hard to keep students in school. From visiting them at home to buying groceries and giving them food during recess, we try to help these students.

But, we need more than Band-Aid solutions. In the midst of revamping our curriculum and trying to achieve world-class standards, we must be mindful of the large number of our students who are failing to meet the basic literacy requirements and thus leaving school because they struggle financially and do not see the need for education.

Above all, we must remember that the same students who leave school will be the ones who are most likely to commit crime or get involved in drugs.

I believe, as long as we keep allowing our students to leave school, we will soon be left with empty schools and crowded jails. – June 18, 2015.