Jan 23, 2009, 6:18 AM
(Thursday, 5th August 2010 issue)
Children all over The Gambia and the world are future leaders. The sure way to come to terms with such a big and true idea is by caring for children, and taking full responsibility to ensure their growth and development educationally. This will enable them take the future leadership of the world and country. Saint Matthew's Nursery and Primary School in Barra, Niumi, has demonstrated resolve to educate children from the grassroot. However, there have been difficulties, with some parents unable to pay for their children's education. Society attended the school's graduation ceremony to learn more about the school, during their passing out.
Schools in Barra and its environs have school children, but need more help to help them stay in school, more than one can imagine. Many parents are unemployed, while others depend on their wives to feed the family and help their children. Saint Matthew's Nursery and Primary school headed by Sr. Christiana Fefegula of the Saint Joseph Sisters of Cluny Congregation who have a very good record in educating the young all over the world as found in the charism of their founder, Ann Marie Javouhey. At Saint Matthew's at Barra it is clear that many parents think that education is free at the school but forget the fact that education is not cheap anywhere. Many think that parents love to celebrate and take new wives but attach less value to educating their off springs who are charged to pay very minimal fee for the year. This trend in the attitude of parents, many observers say, must change to give education a chance. Others also say that philanthropists should go out there to see how children need their help.
The headmistress, Sr. Christiana Fefegula in her speech, at the graduation ceremony and parents, said the academic year has already come to its completion, and that they thank God for everything. She said it was a very successful year, since they were able to upgrade to a Lower Basic School.
"We are grateful to the pioneers of this school. Thanks to our Superior Sr. Ann, the Catholic Education Secretariat and the Regional Education Office at Kerewan," she said.
She pointed out that because of the lack of students, they had to close Ann Marie Javouhey Skills Centre, to make use of its classrooms, for the moment, for Grades 1 and 2.
"But come September 2011, we will need a new building. We would be calling on your generosity to help us with this project. We solicit assistance also from philanthropists helping other schools to venture coming to Barra to see how much need we have, and give us a helping hand. Society must help these little children to be responsible leaders tomorrow," she said.
Mentioning the problems of the school, parents and children, Sister Christiana said the school's enrollment has improved tremendously. However, some parents withdraw their children before the end of year, because of non-payment of fees, and take them to other schools. Non payment of fees is a big headache, she said, and that it is disruptive and not good for the school. "Absenteeism is an area that needs to be addressed. She described some parents as "tourists", and that this affects the children who are taken out of school to go with those parents. "Non-payment of fees is a big headache. Children are kept at home for weeks, and then they send them back quietly without the fees. We are sick and tired of this attitude. Please, come September all fees must be paid as soon as we reopen," Sr. Christiana stressed.
On the good side, Sr. Christiana said there were lots of good things to talk about, such as the progress made by the children, which is mostly important.
"With the help of the good teachers I have, I have noticed, as you may have as well, the striking improvement in the way children read, write and communicate in simple English.
"Their attitude and manner have changed, as you can see, and the atmosphere in the school is calm and peaceful, which makes it a welcome place for the children's development.
"PTA meetings are always well attended, and I wish to thank the parents for their cooperation and willingness to support the school," she said.
She praised her teachers and parents for giving their children the opportunity to reach that far. She expressed a special word of thanks to the staff of Essau Health Centre, "who are so good to our children when they are ill".
"A special bravo to my teachers, who work relentlessly to educate these children," she added.
Sister Christiana concluded by saying, "we promise that we shall surely invest both human and financial resources into this worthy venture, so it shall be a model for other institutions. We promise, with the help of God, that you will be happy and proud of this school, and that you will see it as your own in every sense."
Catherine Haffner, the Catholic Nursery Scools' Education Secretary was the guest speaker. She said they were all gathered there for the purpose of the children's graduation, which was the manifestation of the children's progress in education.
Talking about the history of the school, she said the school was started on 5th November 1991 with 46 children. These she said were housed in the Church hall. "Due to the high need for classrooms, the Catholic Mission in collaboration with GAMWORKS built this edifice in 1995/1996. Since then our ex-pupils have been fairing well in their successive schools, made possible because of the good foundation from this school," she said.
Talking about behaviour, Catherine Haffner said a school would not progress without cooperation and support from all and sundry. She pointed at parents, teachers and pupils for the support she referred to.
"Without an orderly atmosphere, effective teaching and learning cannot take place. If children are permitted to misbehave at school, they prejudice their own educational chances. Worse, they disrupt the education of the children around them," she said.
She advocated for tolerance towards one another, stating that this is necessary for children to grow well. The school rules, she said, were intended for everyone to grow into being a responsible person. Parents, she continued, should be careful because some signals would ring a bell to children, and wrong signals could lead children into doing the wrong things. "Parents pay attention to your children," she concluded.
The staff of the school held a play bringing out the reality on the ground. It was a play about parents not paying their children's school fees, but going to naming ceremonies and so on. It was a thrilling drama for parents to see. The headmistress and the other teachers took different roles.
According to the drama, while one of the families engaged in parties, the other family cared for their children, and made them study. In the end, one lived in poverty, and the other became rich, and the children were able to help their parents when they were old.
Unfortunately, there were only about four men, but several women present, and many believe those men absent should have been present to learn something from the drama about helping their children.
Prizes were distributed to the outgoing Nursery 3 children and others who did well in their exams. The St. Joseph's Skill Centre students displayed their sewn materials and were also given prizes.