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Tackling violence in schools
It is sad, but indicative of how deeply ingrained violence and criminal activity have penetrated the society, that there could even be a contemplation of posting police guards in schools to look over our children. The Minister of Education, in our view, has rightly resisted any pressure to institute such a measure as he argued that most of the violence is perpetrated outside of the school compound. We are not certain that is actually so; or put differently, there have been several reports over many years of serious violence and other forms of grossly delinquent behaviour being perpetrated within school compounds.
Moreover that the violence is not simply student against student, but student against teacher, teacher against student, with acts of vandalism on school compounds by students being also a frequent occurrence. Nevertheless, we still think Minister Gopeesingh is correct to resist any such desperate measure. However, what he now has to do is to ensure that the school violence is reduced over time, otherwise he and his staff would certainly have to take a second look at the consideration of having police placed on school compounds.
But as strongly as the focus has to be placed on redirecting student behaviour, so too is there a desperate need for a focus on the conduct of the adults and how they contribute to the violence and unsavoury acts committed by students and others on the compounds of schools.
There is no better place to start, it might be suggested, than at the level of chronic teacher absenteeism. This culture of teachers using every day of their 28 days of sick and occasional leave every year is well known. When those days are added to the approximately 11 weeks of vacation leave, teacher time away from classes doubles and triples what the average worker gets per year. There therefore can really be no justification for the frequent absences from school, which impact seriously on teaching time and which mean too that supervision must be lax, allowing students, who need little prompting, to engage in acts of indiscipline.
Added to which is the demonstration effect of such gross negligence on students, who could not then be faulted if they were to adopt the attitude of their teachers and mentors. Both the Government and the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association have to face this problem—Government as the employer and the agency for investing the revenues of the country in teachers and students to cater for future development, and TTUTA which must have a responsibility beyond simply bargaining for wages and conditions of work for their members.
Traditionally, the TTUTA leadership has acted as if its members were ultra virtuous in carrying out their assignments, but the situation has reached the point of being indefensible. The PTAs and the national body must also weigh in to curb this behaviour which is making a significant contribution to delinquency.
But above all of these institutions and bodies, parents and guardians in this country cannot continue to duck their responsibility for their children. Ultimately, they are the ones who will have to take charge of their offspring. That 4,000 students are consistently missing from school is a matter that only parents and guardians can fix.
We know that in many instances there are groups of students who govern themselves—parents, if they are alive, are not in the picture. But that in itself is a commentary on how parents have children and then lose and/or give up control of them almost from the start of the lives of the youngsters. If the violence and indiscipline are emerging from the youth, then the future must certainly be under serious question.