Teachers urge joint approach to school violence

–after bloody week at Lodge Secondary
A bloody week at the Lodge Secondary School has once again placed the upsurge of violence among the school population in the spotlight, prompting some authorities to call for a collaborative effort involving the ministries of Education and Human Services and the Guyana Police to address the problem holistically.

“It [violence in school] has definitely reached frightening proportions and there is need for collaborative efforts with the probation and child protection agency, schools welfare department and the police to deal with this matter,” an official, who requested anonymity, told Stabroek News on Tuesday.

Last week three incidents at the Lodge school saw one boy being stabbed in the abdomen, another to his temple and a school girl being slashed across the face.

“We as teachers are afraid. There is not much we can do. We can’t control the children and it is frightening,” one male teacher said.

Similar sentiments were expressed by another male teacher this time from Tutorial High — a school which has also been in the news in recent times because of student-on-student violence.

But both teachers along with officials pointed out that it is not just the two city schools which have this problem; over the years, schools throughout the country have been experiencing similar problems.

“The problem is most schools now have gangs and they are fighting among each other,” one source told Stabroek News.

Now the words ‘Gaza’ and ‘Gully’ – the names given to the feuding factions supporting Jamaican singers Vybz Kartel and Mavado – are on the lips of many secondary school students and most of them form themselves into gangs and take the names of whichever singer they support.

It is now the in-thing among the school populations – be it in Berbice, Linden or Georgetown – to have ‘Gaza’ and ‘Gully’ gangs who fight among each other. In some instances, one teacher explained, children are not involved in the gangs, but once they hail from the area where the members of one group originate then they are also targeted by the opposite group.

“These children need professional counselling, and we as teachers are not trained for that,” one teacher commented.

Efforts to contact the School’s Welfare Coordinator Ms Melville–only name given–proved futile. When she was reached early on Tuesday, she said she was on her way to a meeting and asked the reporter to call again after a specific hour. Several calls were placed but she was never in office. Efforts made on Tuesday also proved futile.

“Teachers need to take back the schools, but we all need to come together and do something, saving one child may result in saving an entire generation,” a source said.

In recent times the Linden Foundation Secondary School at Amelia’s Ward, Mackenzie; Diamond Secondary School, East Bank Demerara; St Winifriede’s Secondary and Freeburg Secondary in the city have all been in the news for violence among students.

According to the teacher from Lodge while the school has been experiencing violence among students for quite some time last week was the “peak of the violence” because of the three bloody incidents.

“Prior to that, the violence had been sporadic, but the situation is a very big problem and there is an upsurge, not only in our school but in other schools,” he said.

And while teachers are “trying” he said there is seldom any support from the parents as most of them fail to attend Parent-Teachers’ Association (PTA) meetings and are never aware of decisions taken.

“They only come when their children are involved in an incident and many of them come to argue not to help,” the teacher said.

“You had one case where a parent went to the school because of an incident involving her child and both of them ended up cussing out the head teacher and then left never to be heard of again,” the teacher from Tutorial High School said.

Giving a background into last week’s three incidents, the Lodge teacher said the first occurred on the ball field next to the school where the child was held down by a group of boys and punctured in his stomach. The following day, a female student who had a problem with another student was met on the road outside the school and slashed twice on her face.

On Friday last, two boys were gambling behind the school during school hours and ended up in an argument over $20 and one of them stabbed the other in his temple.

“Now that one was frightening and traumatic for both students and teachers as the blood was seen gushing out of the wound… blood was everywhere,” the teacher said. He said there are several students who attend school but fail to go into their classrooms. They prefer to remain outside and gamble and involve themselves in other activities.

“We would try to get them into the classrooms but they refuse… what more can we do? Sometimes when they go they just distract the other students,” the teacher said. “The youngsters have no respect for teachers.”

Another teacher now has a problem with his ear after he was hit by a stone pelted by students who were throwing stones at each other.

The teacher said there is need for more security at the school as there is just one female guard on duty and she is afraid of the children. He said there is a hole in the fence behind the school which is used by both students and strangers to enter the school compound. The whole was patched six times in the past — three times by the education ministry and three times by the school — but it was created again by students who said they will continue to open it each time it is repaired.

“There is a guard hut behind the school but no guard. What more can we as teachers do?” the teacher questioned.

He said there is urgent need for the intervention of the education ministry and it should continue on the long term.

On Monday the teachers had a meeting and it was recommended that more welfare officers visit the school as the children are in need of professional counselling.

On Tuesday, a team of welfare officers and police officers visited the school and walked around but the teacher said he was not sure what else they did or whether there would be more such visits in the future.

The teacher said students are aware that teachers cannot flog them and he said when spoken to the child would stop what they are doing for just a while and shortly after continue with the deviant behaviour.

“They know you cannot touch them. They know their rights and while there are alternative measures of disciplinary action printed in the ministry’s handbook, I am not quite sure they are effective. Some students may gladly clean the yard which is one of the disciplinary methods suggested,” the teacher said.
Biggest problem

The fact that teachers’ hands are tied when it comes to disciplining children is the biggest problem, the teacher from Tutorial said on Tuesday.

He pointed out that society has a lot to do with what is happening in the school system as children are the product of society and often they are just mirroring what is happening in their homes and communities.

He said the schools welfare department is ineffective and children don’t mind being sent to the department.

“You have cases where children would sit down and plan what they would tell the welfare officer to get them onto their sides and they would go and just return to school later,” he said.

“We as teachers are afraid but we have a job to do,” he said while adding that there is no support for teachers and “that is where the breakdown comes.”

Because they are afraid teachers sometimes turn a blind eye to certain behaviours by students or others end up in the head’s office out of frustration.  He suggested that some of the students be dealt with by the law for their behaviour so that they could understand that there are serious consequences they would have to face for their actions.

Both teachers also were critical of the “open transfer system” where students are transferred from one school to another when they are involved in problems.

“Now if head teachers don’t do a background check on a student they are accepting then you don’t know what sort of student is coming into the system,” one of the teachers said.

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