Violent schoolchildren: Placing more of the onus on parents
Collectively, the rising tide of violent schoolchildren, the erosion of the authority of the school and the threat which these pose to the effective delivery of education constitute a problem of crisis proportions. In fact, we may well be approaching a point where the initiatives and investments that are applied in the quest for an enhanced quality of education could become hopelessly compromised in the face of this menace.
The Ministry of Education, whatever arguments it might make to the contrary, has not done nearly enough to arrest the problem. The incidents of violence grow more alarming. In the first few months of 2012 two schoolboys were killed allegedly by fellow students. Previously, there was the instance of an armed schoolboy gang from the city that travelled to Leonora to confront children from another school. Several other instances of violence among schoolchildren have occurred, some of which have not come to the attention of the media.
There have been other disturbing developments in our schools too, like the report of drug-pedalling by a student at a city secondary which went unreported by a female teacher out of fear of reprisal. That report was made to this newspaper about two years ago and there have been subsequent reports of drug-pedalling in schools.
Last week’s incident in which a female trainee teacher was beaten by a student was not the first occasion on which teachers were assaulted by students, and outraged as we may be over the occurrence we cannot honestly say that the incident has surprised us. What it does is underscore the frightening reality of violent schoolchildren who grow bolder in their assault on the authority of the school system.
Under the previous Education Minister, Shaik Baksh, there had been a succession of incidents of violence involving schoolchildren and reports of the existence of school gangs. Children were being found with concealed weapons on school premises. Not a lot came from the Ministry of Education by way of a response, save and except public pronouncements by the Minister that concluded with the placement of welfare officers at some schools and the Minister’s wholly delusional declaration to the effect that the measures put in place by the ministry were containing the problem. That, manifestly, has not been the case. What was far more apparent was that the ministry had not grasped the scale of the problem. The serious research that ought to have been done long ago was simply never done, and in the absence of an effective understanding of the problem the ministry could not hope to apply the correct solutions; so that at end of the day Mr Baksh’s ‘solutions’ were impractical, inadequate and ineffective.
Schools and teachers have always been equipped to deal with what one might call routine student insurgency and disruptiveness. Children who are altogether unmindful of the authority of the school and who are prepared to violently confront that authority represent a challenge of a far more demanding magnitude. Schools and teachers do not, at this time, possess the tools to confront that problem.
In the wake of last week’s incident the Guyana Teachers Union (GTU) has called for 24-hour guards to be assigned to schools. Even if we accept that security guards at schools are desirable as a matter of course, one has to wonder whether the call by the Teachers’ Union does not arise out of a knee-jerk concern – even if entirely understandable – for the safety of the teachers that leaves the substantive problem unattended. At any rate, we suspect that the ministry will rule out the idea of full-time guards on the grounds of cost.
The search for real and practical solutions must now begin in earnest. It must commence with an acceptance on the ministry’s part that violence among schoolchildren constitutes a crisis. Child-on-child murders, assaults on teachers and the existence of violent school gangs go way beyond those routine cases of indiscipline which schools and teachers can reasonably be expected to handle on their own. Such cases extend into an assault on the very institutions of control and authority that hold the education system together.
Whatever decision the courts may make in the matter of the recent assault on the female trainee teacher the Ministry cannot afford to await the outcome of that matter before it nails its own colors to the mast. Its response must be immediate and must match the gravity of a situation which was evident long before last week’s incident.
What the Ministry of Education and many schools have failed to do with any consistency is to rigidly enforce that ‘contract’ that exists between the school and the parent which requires the latter to provide reasonable assurances of their children’s preparedness to subject themselves to the authority of the school as a condition for the privilege of attending school. Where that contract is transgressed by deviant behaviour that challenges and threatens the erosion of authority, inhibits teachers in the delivery of education and threatens the welfare of the school and the well-being of the school population, the school must enforce its right to be relieved of the responsibility of accommodating the transgressors. It is a matter of rendering parents more accountable, of placing on their shoulders a responsibility which ought to go beyond the routine of simply ensuring the child’s attendance at school and expecting that the teachers will do the rest. There should be no room for compromise in the school-parent ‘contract.’
What both the ministry and many state schools have done is to neglect to institutionalize the medium of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), by far the most reliable medium through which the enforcement of the school-parent ‘contract’ can be monitored. PTAs in state schools across the country vary in their effectiveness. There are cases in which they are non-existent, a circumstance which removes entirely that critical medium of communication between school and parent.
There is nothing wrong with a system which guarantees the existence of the contract between school and parent only if parents diligently pursue what, in effect, is their obligation to attend and participate in PTA meetings. It is at that forum that the contract (and the consequences for non-adherence thereto) can be discussed and settled. Where the terms of the contract are clear to both sides, the enforcement of penalties for transgression becomes a simpler matter.
This, of course, can only happen if the Ministry of Education is prepared to introduce monitoring systems (and given the presence of Regional Education Officers this ought not to present the ministry with any insurmountable problem) that ensure the effectiveness of PTAs, including requiring heads of schools and teachers to ensure that parents understand the terms of the ‘contract.’ Where parents are under no illusions regarding their obligation to guarantee the conduct of their children, it places the onus on them to deliver to the school system children who are mindful of authority. In the absence of compliance it is the parents and, regrettably, their children rather than schools and the education system (as is so often the case these days) that must suffer the consequences. That is as it should be.