Child month addressByDame Cecile La GrenadeGovernor General

Quality care and education while promoting health and safety

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children, All. I bring you special greetings at the start of Child month 2021. I believe that children are a blessing from God and that he gives us the privilege to raise them to be responsible caring and valuable adults. Indeed, it is said that our children embody the present and represent our future. There is no doubt that at no other time in our recent history has the education, growth and development of our children been so hampered by the unexpected and abrupt changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Even the celebration of Child month that usually takes place in October had to be moved to November this year, due to the alarming increase in COVID-19 cases in September. The theme for the 2021 Child month is “Children’s care and education matter: Let Children Grow, Glow and Flourish.” This theme is very apt in our present environment, as it underscores the constant demand to nurture our children, at a time when parents themselves face daunting challenges, our education system is under considerable strain, and our health is threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the first quarter of 2020 and indeed to the present time, children have been unable to attend school in person and have had to adapt to a new mode of learning. Parents have had to assume a role usually assigned to teachers to ensure that at least some aspects of the school curriculum are covered and have had to adapt to a new form of instruction for their children. This has been onerous for some who were hitherto unfamiliar with the virtual world of learning in a structured and organised manner. And even now, just as we were all eagerly awaiting the resumption of in-person instruction in September of 2021, schools were again forced to shut their doors, opening only this first week in November with reduced hours and fewer days of in-person instruction. The social and economic impact of the loss of more than one academic year for our children is yet to be determined. It will most certainly be negative, if we, the adults charged with raising our children, do not go the extra mile in terms of our commitment, attitudes, approaches and teaching methods in an attempt to offset the deleterious effects of this loss of precious learning and early development periods. On October 19, 1990, Grenada signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the human rights treaty that tops the list in terms of ratification by member States. This international treaty sets out the rights under International Law to which all children of the world are entitled. The convention recognises that children enjoy human rights that go beyond those of adults, on account of the unique vulnerabilities of children. Nelson Mandela once said “there is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” Over the years, Grenada has taken major steps to implement policies and initiatives to support the development and care of children. This reflects recognition of the fact that our children are our most important asset as they represent the future of our nation. The education and learning experiences of children chart the course of their future, beginning at a very early age. Need for childcare A high standard of childcare keeps children safe and healthy. High-quality early childhood education helps children develop skills they will need for success not only in school but also in the wider society, such as social and communication skills, application of basic mathematical concepts, and critical thinking skills. In today’s society, the majority of parents work. The availability of childcare services enables parents to gain employment or affords them the time needed to obtain the education or training required for upward mobility in their places of work or access to better jobs. High quality preschool and childcare will have a positive long-term impact on children and the economy. In societies such as ours, where women shoulder most or all of the responsibility for raising their children, they are more often forced to take time off from work to care for a sick child, which can negatively impact their career opportunities. Effective childcare programmes are therefore critical to ensure that children are nurtured and cared for while enabling parents, particularly women, to take advantage of opportunities for advancement. Grenada has been recognized for the progress made in early childhood education and is one of the leading countries in the OECS in this area of education. We have been instrumental in both setting and enforcing standards. Continuous training is now available in virtual teaching techniques, particularly at the early childhood levels. It is indeed heartening to see the ever-increasing number of child care facilities, whether privately or government run, that are being established in our country in recent years. This is highly commendable as training during the formative years generally determines a student’s eagerness to learn and stimulates interest in academics and thus the desire to achieve success. Need for psychosocial support for children Psychosocial support addresses an individual’s emotional, social, mental and spiritual needs. These are the foundational elements of sound human development. All children need psychosocial support for their psychological and emotional wellbeing, as well as their physical and mental development. Some children need additional, specific psychosocial support if they have experienced extreme trauma or adversity. Quite often these needs are not recognized or addressed. In recent weeks and months, our society has seen evidence of depression, withdrawal from society, and despair among young people even to the point of taking their own lives. While most children are fairly resilient when faced with extreme adversity or trauma, many are not. Parents or teachers who observe noticeable changes in the behaviour of children must be prepared to intervene to ensure the wellbeing of their children so as to prevent unfortunate or tragic outcomes. Psycho-social support programmes need not stand alone. They can be integrated into wider programmes such as extracurricular school activities, Brownies, Girl Guides or Boy Scouts, sports or cultural activities, community-based service organizations such as the Leo Club and Rotaract and Social and Health Services such as the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance Brigade. Creatively integrating psychosocial programmes into the usual extra-curricular groups and activities can greatly enhance our children’s wellbeing and development, as they tend to reach a greater number of individuals and are typically less stigmatizing. I encourage parents and teachers alike to both speak to and listen to their children, discuss and play an active role in their school activities, check their assignments, and attend school meetings and conferences. This will allow you to establish a rapport with their teachers and develop a caring relationship with your children. Training of educators In the present competitive climate of our globalized world, the training provided to students should enable them to easily compete on the world stage. It is heartening to see that emphasis is being placed not only on teacher training for the new normal, but also on upgrading several of our institutions of learning with the aim of ensuring that our children keep abreast of cutting-edge technologies. I have been delighted to observe construction of the Presentation Brothers College Science and Technology wing now well underway, as is the refurbishing of the Hillsborough Secondary School in Carriacou. These, along with the work on the Mt Rose Seventh Day Adventist School and the excellent skills training obtained at the refurbished NEWLO facility in Palmiste, St John’s, augur well for the training opportunities that will become available to our future leaders. Health and safety At this time when the recent and devastating COVID-19 community spread is showing signs of subsiding and schools are now beginning a phased reopening, we must remain vigilant as COVID-19 is still very present in our communities. As someone trained in the field of microbiology, I know that the way to control and eradicate an infectious disease is by vaccination. I encourage all, including eligible children, to take the vaccine. Additionally, parents, encourage your children to eat balanced healthy meals to boost their immune systems, and consult a medical professional when any sign of illness is detected. I implore you to take what appears to be a mild bout of illness seriously, so as to avoid later medical complications and distress. Work along with teachers in ensuring that your children remain safe. Provide them with the required protective gear. I encourage all teachers to follow the guidelines and protocols established by the Ministry of Health such as the proper wearing of masks, frequent hand sanitizing and maintaining social distancing in classrooms. We must promote and maintain a safe and caring environment that is conducive to learning for our students whose education and social development need to continue notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic. Fellow citizens, the onus is on us to protect and uplift our precious children. This is our sacred duty. We must do it to the best of our ability. I thank you

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