The Schools Welfare Department of the Ministry of Education is working to curb violence in schools across the country, while highlighting the importance of the roles of parents in resolving such situations.
This is according to Chief Welfare Officer Banmattie Ram, who was responding to questions posed by this newspaper on the findings of an investigation into a stabbing at the Freeburg Secondary School. In the incident, second form student Marlon Lowe received a stab wound to his back following an altercation with another student.
Ram, in an interview with Stabroek News yesterday, said that following an intense investigation which included open discussions with the students involved in the incident as well as their parents, the situation was resolved amicably and both students are being counselled by welfare officers. She said one has to recognize the importance of the roles played by the parents of the boys involved in the incident, noting that parents are tasked with complementing the roles played by the welfare officers.
Ram said investigations revealed that the incident in question occurred outside the school environs and after normal school hours. Stating that she was not defending the position taken by her department, Ram said welfare officers nevertheless assisted the school, students and parents involved in the incident, noting that it was their duty to do so.
Stabroek News had reported three weeks ago on the incident, in which Lowe said that the wounding stemmed from an incident which occurred on the opening day of the new school term when his class teacher placed him and a few other students in another classroom which was occupied by another class at the time. A student from that class began taunting him, and that led to him being attacked by the student and his friends the following week. During the attack, he was stabbed in his upper back by the student, who used an ice pick. He was taken to the Georgetown Public Hospital by his mother, who stated that she had raised the issue of students taking various sharp instruments such as ice picks, knives and used surgical blades to school.
Asked about the general state of affairs as regards violent situations within the school system, Ram said her department has not received many reports in this regard. She added that she has personally been in contact with the regional education departments and schools countrywide in order to be on top of situations. She said she has also paid frequent visits to schools across the country in order to have a complete awareness of what is taking place in the school system, noting that her department has been working in tandem with associated agencies such as the welfare department of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security.
She stated that there are procedures which schools are required to follow when an incident occurs within the learning environment, including the school administration immediately informing the welfare department or other relevant agency, such as law enforcement — as in the case of narcotics being found on students — when such incidents occur.
Ram said while her department observes media reports of incidents, such as in the case of the Freeburg Secondary student, upon investigation the welfare officers would report that the findings are usually different from what is reported in the press.
She explained that there are occasions when media houses within the print media would receive reports of incidents before the welfare department and posited that one of the reasons may be related to the events which were occurring at the school at the time, leaving the school’s administration with little time to contact the welfare department. She noted, however, that the welfare department benefits from such reports since welfare officers would have enough information in order to carry out their investigations.
Ram also noted that the welfare department has been working with children in challenging situations, some of whom are unable to attend school because of the financial status of their parents, as well as female students who become pregnant while attending school.
As regards the latter, the welfare department head stated that there had been few cases occurring country wide and students in such situations are afforded an opportunity to enhance their qualifications following pregnancy. She said in such cases the child would have to be age 15, as required by the education regulations, in order to receive assistance from the department.