It Takes A Village To Educate A Child
Children with sickle cell disease are often at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing education. Disruptions to their education is caused by frequently falling ill over short periods of time or needing to spend long stays in hospital. Sickle cell is an ethnic disease and this presents another problem, as most children suffering with the condition will live in inner city areas.
The schools in inner city areas are often overcrowded, and teaching resources and teachers are stretched to a minimum. In a city such as London, it is not unusual to find 30-35 children of various ethnic backgrounds, were their first language is not English, being tutored by one teacher. If the teacher has no experience of ethnic languages and cultures, then naturally these children will fall behind. For children with Sickle cell disease, the situation can be far worse.
Primary and secondary education are the important early years for a child’s development. They develop their confidence by understanding who they are through the eyes of others. If teachers are not properly educated about a child’s conditions and needs, it may cause feelings of stigmatisation towards the child, and eventually from her peers in the classroom. I know this because growing up, I often had to take time off school for checkups or if I was feeling ill.
Back then, there was no information packs, advice or counseling available to educate the teachers or my peers about what was wrong with me, and why I frequently missed school.The result of these challenges have been delayed education, and decreased employment opportunities. Every child, no matter what their ability, deserves equal access to education. Crucial aspects need to be in place to help children through their educational development:
First, parents need to be educated about the problems that can occur when bringing up a child with sickle cell disease, and the impact this may have on their education. If a child suffers a crisis episode, it becomes the parents sole responsibility to continue their education out of school. This is when counseling from doctors and community support networks need to firmly be in place. This will offer support to the parent/s and the child which is crucial, especially when there may be pressures at home with other children that need equal care and attention.
Secondly, hospitals should ensure educational facilities for children. This should be available to children who are both long term inpatients and those being admitted for a short stay. I appreciate that this is easier said then done, but with constant communication sharing from teachers, counsellors and parents, it is achievable. Furthermore, a Best Practice education and care package for children living with an illness and facing problems to their education should be rolled out nationally.
Lastly, schools in urban areas, particularly where there is a higher concentration of ethnic minorities, need to be informed about the consequences of sickle cell disease on the child and their education. Additional provisions should be provided, so that the child and the parent/s feel supported. This is imperative, as the majority of children in this situation are from single parent families, where the mother is often the sole carer.
In any case, sickle cell disease should be treated as a condition with the possibility of jeopardizing a child’s achievement in education. Until contingency plans like those suggested are in place, children with sickle cell disease will continue to face barriers to their education and stigmatisation within their community. If this situation is not rectified soon, we will have a generation of people with this condition who are not reaching their educational potential. In a fast paced city, within a fast moving world, those who cannot keep up, get easily left behind. It is during situations like this when the old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child” needs to be a physical practice that we can all benefit from.