“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Tackling violence in schools
Training should be provided to all primary and secondary school staff, as well as parents and other stakeholders about how gangs develop and how to respond to them. De-escalating the violence may require many other initiatives, such as introducing staggered school closing times to prevent clashes between rival gangs and shorter lunch breaks to limit the free time which provide opportunities for outbreaks of violence.
It is significant that public sessions in the National Consultation on Education have been so heavily overshadowed by school violence. They were preceded by the murders of Success Laventille students De-Neil Smith and Mark Richards, who were ambushed and shot dead as they travelled home from school. Now with the consultations in progress there have been more incidents of school related violence, including gang threats forcing the early closure of the Chaguanas North Secondary School and the murders of two more schoolboys.
As a result, one of the objectives of the ongoing consultations, reducing incidents of violence, bullying and indiscipline in schools, takes on greater urgency. There is no denying that T&T’s crime problem is destabilising the education system, putting school-aged children at increased risk of violence in their classrooms and schoolyards.
This problem has been festering for many years. With very little resistance from the authorities, criminal gangs have been able to infiltrate troubled schools where they find many willing recruits for their criminal enterprises—teenagers struggling with deprivation, dysfunctional families and few opportunities for positive progress.
Those criminal influences are also encroaching on prestige schools. One of the teens murdered this week attended a top secondary school in east Trinidad and in recent times there have been worrying incidents at other schools well known for academic successes. All of these are evidence of the negative influence gang culture is having on T&T’s schools, triggering recent increases in violence.
To halt this dangerous trend, the educators and decision-makers at the ongoing National Consultation must come up with short and medium term solutions. Early intervention strategies that target neighbourhoods, families and schools should be developed through collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of National Security.
There was an excellent recommendation made during one of the sessions this week for establishment of police youth clubs in all primary and secondary schools. That initiative will be most effective as part of a multi-faceted approach that “deglamourises” the gangster lifestyle, teaches students about their destructiveness, and provides positive activities that will help them avoid being drawn into crime.
Training should be provided to all primary and secondary school staff, as well as parents and other stakeholders about how gangs develop and how to respond to them.
De-escalating the violence may require many other initiatives, such as introducing staggered school closing times to prevent clashes between rival gangs and shorter lunch breaks to limit the free time which provide opportunities for outbreaks of violence.
Also, while it might be necessary to remove students that threaten the education and safety of their schoolmates, alternative facilities must be provided for their continued education so that they are not out on the streets. In addition, closer attention will have to be paid to school dropouts who “lime” near schools. Often these are active recruiters for criminal gangs.
While not all cases of school violence are gang-related, enough of them are to warrant more frequent, close monitoring of the environment in and around schools to anticipate and prevent criminal infiltration.
These are just some matters that should be considered by the stakeholders now working to restore an optimum learning environment in the nation’s schools.