Family Structure and Education: Spotlight on Single Mother Households in Trinidad and Tobago


     Lorraine Lydia Kavedza

Across Trinidad and Tobago, families have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Low-income single-mother families are significantly negatively impacted. Single mothers have to shoulder the double burden of ‘work’ and ‘care’ while faced with the growing challenge of providing access to education for their children. Following the closure of schools in 2020, the government launched e-learning strategies to ensure the continuation of learning and teaching for students and teachers. Unfortunately, many children from low-income single mother households could not access e-learning platforms. They neither had the needed electronic devices for e-learning nor access to the internet.

There were concerted efforts by community-based and non–governmental organizations to bridge the digital divide during the Covid19 lockdown. One such organization, the Global Network for the Advancement of Single mothers-GNASM, sought donations of laptops from well-wishers and government departments to distribute to single-mother households. The government’s response to GNASM’s requests was both slow and lackluster.

The government-run e-learning platforms spotlighted the enormous economic gulf among the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago. It further highlighted the precarious plight of children from low-income families, who form a significant proportion of school-going children in the twin-island nation. The gulf attained astronomical proportions if the children were from disadvantaged or low-income single mother households. For such families, putting any form of infrastructure to comply with the guidelines given by the government to keep Covid19 at bay was a struggle. Such households were the most unprepared to deal with the challenges paused in accessing education services for their children during the pandemic. Some of these children, who are in state-run schools, did not have formal education for more than six months due to a lack of the necessary resources needed to access the e-learning platforms. Yet other learners had, since September 2020, received instruction effortlessly.

Despite their different circumstances, all these learners are expected to sit for the same national tests as schools re-open. They are expected to be able to compete favorably for opportunities at the national level. The gap in learning between these two groups of students is hard to ignore. Students needed to be assessed as they returned to school. Those students who fell back in learning during the lockdown must be supported to catch up and meet the expected learning goals and targets before sitting for exams. They should take extra lessons remotely or in after-school clubs.

Extra lessons require that teachers feel motivated enough to go the extra mile in helping students who fall short of learning goals. Remote learning means the students must have access to a device and a stable internet. Parents should also be encouraged to seek interventions to avail extra help for their children by utilizing tuition platforms such as the Tuition –Bee Reinforcement Learning. Unfortunately, most of the extra lessons may come at a cost that many single mothers can ill afford.

Trinidad and Tobago has an intricate alliance between single motherhood and low academic outcomes. Statistics place single-parent homes in Trinidad and Tobago at 28%. More than half of these are single-mother households. These statistics have a bearing on academic disparity among children. Studies show that single mothers have lower educational levels than mothers with marriage partners (Harkonen, 2017). Children of single mother households also tend to have lower academic levels than single father households and two-parent households. This impact on education takes on a complex, multifaceted cyclic pattern prevalent throughout the twin islands.

Parental influence is an excellent determinant of children’s study habits and performance. For the single mother, time is an elusive commodity. Shortage of time compounds the myriad challenges she faces. These include inadequate time to help her children with homework or to be present to ensure that the child develops good study habits. Poor study habits and limited study time cause the children of many single mothers to lag behind their peers in class. Many single mothers’ children view matriarchy as the norm and grow up to repeat the cycle of single motherhood; Boys do not commit to marrying their partners while girls have children outside wedlock at an early age. So, the pattern persists.

Also, children tend to mimic their parents at an academic level. Children whose parents attained higher education are likely to go far in school. Unfortunately, the higher number of single mothers achieved low to average academic standards. Research has also shown that many children of single mothers suffer social and psychological problems that lead to high rates of school dropouts and poor academic performance. Compounding this is the belief that high academic achievement in single-parent households is an unattainable anachronism.

 The single-mother situation is not new or unique to Trinidad and Tobago. Yet its persistence and exacerbation are of great concern. There seems to be a generational cycle of single motherhood in the twin-island country, a pointer to simmering, underlying societal problems. Hence the need for sustainable transformation of society as a lasting solution with far-reaching effects on children’s education from single-mother households. The situation calls for long-term sustainable interventions that would empower single mothers against poverty and provide positive interventions for the education of their children.

There is an urgent need to accelerate efforts toward bridging the prevailing educational gaps resulting from the lockdown to mitigate some of the pandemic’s most adverse effects on children’s education. All students must have access to digital devices. These devices would make it possible the access of extra- education resources such as online libraries and tuition platforms. There is a need to address and bridge the digital divide in education and ensure that all children have equal access to educational opportunities. We must also address the challenges in accessing educational resources that pit children from single-mother households unfavorably against their two-parent and single father households counterparts. We must find sustainable interventions that will protect the right to education for all children in times of disaster.

Children must have access to remote learning during and beyond disasters. We must protect and uphold their right to education.

The government should ensure equal access to education for the children of Trinidad and Tobago at all times. Also, educators must sensitize and enlighten the government on the prevailing digital gap and the resultant inequity in access to education in the country. They must call out the government through its education department to its sworn duty, obligations, and responsibilities towards all children in Trinidad and Tobago.

There should be a transformation of prevailing social dynamics. There is a need to strengthen existing family structures of marginalized and disadvantaged groups to gain power and knowledge of their right to access available social services. Responsible government departments must ensure effective public service delivery at all times. There should be efforts to curtail the vicious cycle of single motherhood through sustainable, transformative solutions. There is a need for a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of injustices that propagate lone motherhood.

There is a need for robust policies and empathetic and inclusive work cultures supporting single mothers. Employers need to create flexible work plans for them. The projects must accord single mothers time to pay attention to their children’s education. Educators must call out the government to address the absence of inclusive budgeting and planning. They must challenge the restrictive funding that results in systemic inequalities in welfare programs. They must call out the government to foster marginalized families against unprecedented disasters. Through multifaceted, sustainable interventions, there can be a solution to the challenges faced in attaining equity in access to education in Trinidad and Tobago.

References

  1.  Emmanuel Janagan Johnson and Christine H. Descartes Parental influence on academic achievement among the primary school students in Trinidad, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, and Trinidad & Tobago2016.
  2. Research in Educational Administration & Leadership 6(3), September 2021, 662-690
  3. UNESCO, “Global Monitoring of School Closures Caused by COVID-19,” Education: from disruption to recovery, 2020. http://globalnetworkofsinglemothers.org
  4. Single Parent Center (2017, March). Family Structure and Single Parenting in the Caribbean. Single Parenting in the Caribbean – Family Structure And Single Parenting In The Caribbean (singleparentcenter.net)

Meet Lorraine Lydia Kavedza: https://globaledleadership.org/lorraine-lydia-kavedza/

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