School Starting Again!

I INITIALLY WROTE THIS IN SEPTEMBER, IN WHICH A TONED DOWN VERSION WAS SENT TO THE LOCAL NEWSPAPERS…. MANY HAVE READ THE NICE VERSION… THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO SAY.

The scholastic year has started once again, and after the initial sigh of relief from the parents, the headaches will come pounding in, and it will soon be time to reach for the medicine cabinet.

As usual, a number of problems will manifest themselves, and it is up to us, the parents, to listen to the plights of our children. I don’t know why a child has no qualms in speaking outright to a parent, but not to a teacher or the school head. Where is the teacher-student relationship?

Without trying to sound pompous or force my way, I would like to point out how old-fashioned some of our practices at schools really are. Teachers positively make dinosaurs recent!

Let’s start with most probably the most important gripe, and perhaps the most costly. Uniforms. I don’t care what the minister said about the uniforms. I know it’s not true! We were told (Told! Not asked) to buy our children’s apparel from a certain vendor. I’m not going to harp about the fact that some of our orders have not arrived yet with school term already in! Hardly. I am talking about the price-list, which is, simply put, horrifying. I cannot imagine what single parents manage to do to pay the exorbitant prices.

This is a monopoly (I repeat, I don’t CARE what anybody says) that must be stopped. Paying fifty Euros for a school tracksuit is simply not on. Then another ten for the school cap, and the school tie, a thirty euro ‘standard’ school-bag (for which the designer should be hung-up and quartered) that is literally ‘a pain in the back’, socks, shirts, jerseys that seem to have been modelled on an orangutan’s long arms, badges… the list goes on. I flatly refused to buy stuff that I deemed unwearable. The ‘official reason’ for, say, the bag being standard is that ‘parents with less financial capabilities’ will not have their children feeling the odd ones out by not having brand-name bags. The truth is that brand-name bags are cheaper than the official school ones, as well as being designed better, and naturally, are more hard-wearing.

A look at the kids boarding the school bus will soon show that none of them still use the official bag, which is consigned to the bins within a month. As for the blazers, good-golly. I can buy a full suit for the price of one of them. I’m not going to be embarrassed about it. We scrounge one from a relative or friend. We don’t even CARE if it fits or not. Last year my daughter managed to get by without wearing it even once! As long as the darn thing is draped over the students’ arms….who cares about blazers?

Some uniform vendor even had the temerity to blame the lack of uniform availability on ‘obese children’. What some companies will say to pass the buck is beyond belief. Be prepared, and all that, you know?

And I have read there are schools that insist on BLUE school shoes! They are so expensive…and nigh on impossible to procure. What does it matter if they are black or blue? Really? (My wallet is usually black and blue after the mauling at the hands of the uniform sellers)

We now come to an item that is the bane of my existence come September. Why do we still have teachers who insist that we ‘brown paper and plastic cover’ our children’s books, files, and copybooks? Can any teacher with half a brain convince me that a PVC plastic file (unmarkable, un-stainable, indestructible, and that I have bought with MY OWN MONEY and is thus my property) will be better off if covered with brown paper and then plastic OVER THAT? Are you insane? Why? I need a practical reason, not some mumble that ‘all files need to be the same’… what are we? Communists? If I were the student, I would absolutely refuse to do it. My daughter is not of the same mettle as I am , so we will probably be spending unhappy evenings at home, covering the darn things.

Do you know that it will be us parents who will be doing this thankless, stupid task? And what about the cost? I thought schools were ‘thinking green’… probably the colour of money. The same money we are charged for ‘photocopies’, which are mostly printed on GM-watermarked sheets… obviously obtained for free and printed for nothing, probably in the staff-room.

In 2011 everyone has a computer, and many students have portable computers. Why not dispense with the paper and use pdf files? Why must we be so old-fashioned?

Let’s now move on to less financially problematic , but nonetheless, important aspects. Health Issues. Which frankly, suck.

Why, in heaven’s name, are school bags so heavy? Sure, students are supposed to have lockers to keep books in, but with Mathematics, English, Maltese, Religion (another why) and Physics lessons taking place daily, one cannot keep school books in the lockers. According to WHO standards, the bag must never be over 15% of the child’s body weight. I doubt whether any headmaster/mistress in Maltese history has ever had the courage to stand up for the students in this case. My younger daughter is very thin, with a low body-weight. The bag to body ratio is significantly more than 15%. Those bags are heavy. School-bags on wheels have been banned practically in all the schools I know of, probably due to cranky old janitors not wanting to clean up the corridors from the wheel marks when it is raining. Good old scoliosis! I can’t help it this time. I simply would like to call you names, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed. So I’ll settle for a quick scratch of my head.

Morning roll-calls are held outside, whether it is chilly and damp, or more frequently in Malta, glaringly hot with a blazing sun already doing the rounds. My daughter told me that on the first day of school they had to endure 45 minutes of unending heat until they were sent to their classes. Wow. Great job. I would have already been close to murder at that time!

Then it was another round of ‘stew-our-kids’ during the break, when students are not allowed to stay in their classes, ostensibly because of pick-pocketing. As if the children don’t have lockers (which we pay for) to keep their valuables. Alright, I know, some locker keys are not handed until after a month has gone by…makes me wonder why. Finger-print coding? Naah… I doubt it.

So yeah, our children are spending anything from an hour to two hours of unremitting inclement weather, in the school yard, without protection from the elements. Is this even legal? My daughter suffers badly from headaches all the time during the school terms. This is inhumane. Thank you for being considerate. NOT!

I read not long ago that horses standing for more than half-an-hour, are to be provided with a shade canopy…Horses…makes me wonder what kind of animals are our children.

So, one might have realised that my children are girls…well, not girls any more, more like young ladies…

And girls, during secondary schooling, usually go through a tremendous transformation, changing into women during the years they are learning the ropes. Some teachers flatly refuse to let the students use the toilets during the lessons. I can (partly) understand the refusal of a teacher to reject a girl’s claims to go to the bathroom exactly after the morning break, but imagine if you can, a school that has close to two thousand (female) students, all having their break at the same time, with a very limited number of toilet facilities. It is easy to see that even if a tenth of the students do use the lavatory facilities, there are still too many students to use the toilets in the fifteen minutes available.

I’m sorry, but this is not acceptable to me. Last year we had a problem with our elder daughter who had her request to go to the toilet refused, for about three hours. The resulting bladder infection cost us hundreds in Euros, and an unending source of pain for the child. (I’m ready to happily, honestly fucking strangle that teacher now please.)

Students, especially girls, MUST be allowed to visit the toilet at any time. I know, there will be those who will take advantage, but it is not fair on the genuine students. In Malta we have a saying ‘mal-hazin jehel it-tajjeb’. In this day and age, it is no longer acceptable.

I am sure that more parents will find more gripes to complain about. And I am amazed, because at this stage in time, we should not have these problems, which frankly, are primitive.

Even more amazing is the fact that despite my grumblings, I know that our teachers (most of them) do their utmost to educate the future generations of adults. For which I am mostly happy.

Now if only these niggling problems could be fixed. I know they can…it only takes a bit more common sense…

Which doesn’t look to be so common after all…comments on the back of a 50Euro note please!

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