Great progress in education, but violence in class is on the rise

POSTED: 06/7/13 2:03 PM

St. Maarten – Realization of the right to education has made great progress over the past two decades, the Unicef-report “The situation of children and adolescents in Sint Maarten” states. Key factors are, “significant state investments, compulsory education and high rates of access.”

But the education-sector also has its share of problems. There is for instance no unified model: schools are free to teach in either English or Dutch and there is a big difference between public and private schools. “More affluent families prefer to send their children to private schools because there is a better school environment fewer children per classroom, more teachers and a better infrastructure,” the report states.

Compulsory education, though welcome and necessary, has also created its own set of problems. This is due, the report states, “to the growing number of children, including immigrant groups with different cultural backgrounds and different levels of education. The number of students per class has increased substantially from an average of 22 to 30 and even 35.” Minister Jacobs corrected this on Wednesday, pointing out that by law the maximum number of pupils per class in foundation based education is 28.

The Unicef-report notes that increased access to education “has not necessarily been accompanied by more teachers, infrastructure or mechanisms to support teachers in managing complex groups.”

Students have their own opinion about what’s going on in the schools. They point to a lack of preparation and a lack of interest among teachers: “The classes are not always attractive, some teachers repeat much of the same and others go too fast and don’t ask us if we understand. If we don’t know how to do something they just tell us to find the answer on our own.”

Students also complain in the report about overcrowded schools and about strict rules: “If a student fights with another student they kick you out. You only get one chance to make mistakes or have a problem. If a student is found with drugs, even marijuana, she/he will be expelled and not given an opportunity to correct her/his mistakes.”

University of Saint Martin President Annelies van den Assem was involved in a Unicef-workshop in Leiden last month where the report about the position of children in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom was discussed.

“The report shows that students experience violence from teachers, but also that children have become more violent among each other. During our workshop it also appeared that students become more violent towards teachers,” Van den Assem said in an interview with Andrew Dick on Caribisch Netwerk.

“But where does that violence against children, and the violence from children come from?” she said. “The situation has become more complex than some people think. A simple solution no longer exists. That does not mean that there are no solutions but you have to involve more groups in the process.”

Van den Assem also briefly addressed the issue of poverty. “We hear that children sometimes get no food at all during the weekend. The last meal they get is on Friday at the youth center and the next one they get on Monday. But the parents and those children do have blackberries. More must be done to make clear to the parents that it is maybe better to buy food instead of blackberries.”

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