Age of opportunity

This newspaper reported yesterday that some 17 students –all in their early teens—from two city secondary schools had been held by the police and were giving statements after they marched into the Leonora Secondary School armed with knives, to settle a score.

Commander of ‘D’ Division, under which Leonora falls, Assistant Commissioner Balram Persaud told Stabroek News that the students had apparently gone there to confront a student who had previously had “a problem” with a relative of one the group. The mind boggles at the thought that 17 armed students would travel all the way from the city to barge into a school to avenge some wrong. But what is chilling is the thought of what might have been had teachers not called the police or if the police had not responded promptly. No one goes to have a row or verbal confrontation with a 16-strong crew armed with knives.

A little over a week ago, the authorities in Region Ten intervened to resolve disciplinary issues at the Linden Foundation Secondary School where the situation was fast attaining crisis proportions. During a series of meetings with the school’s Parent Teachers Association (PTA), the student population and teachers, it was revealed that the problems were myriad. Teachers had said that they had been forced to defend themselves during violent confrontations with students in school; students were taking their rebellion outside the school and had vandalised a teacher’s home; students were attacking parents. On the other hand, students had complained of teachers touching them inappropriately; teachers being dressed inappropriately and being frequently absent.

These are not the only instances of delinquency in secondary schools in Guyana; there have been other reported cases. The situation in Linden may be headed for resolution as the authorities have decided to address the issue immediately and holistically. In the city, possibly because there are so many more schools a hands-on approach is limited to school-PTA action only. Anecdotal evidence suggests that much more is needed for there to be positive results.

In its State of the World’s Children report for 2011, released late last month, UNICEF called for investment in the world’s 1.2 billion adolescents, who according to UNICEF are children between the ages of 10 and 19 years old, to break entrenched cycles of poverty and inequity. The report, titled ‘Adolescence: An Age of Opportunity’, noted that gains had been made with strong investments in children under the age of ten. However, it pointed out that there needed to be a consolidation of those gains made in early childhood or there was a risk that they would be wiped out by adolescents falling through the cracks.

Investments, particularly in education and training, the report said, are critically needed to avert ills such as exploitation, abuse and violence besetting adolescents. Of course, these investments would need to be beyond the material. No amount of new schools, computers or other such physical assets ever served to pull a child back from the brink of hoodlumism. The intangibles, such as knowledgeable, caring and attentive teachers and systems that work to protect children’s rights would need to be in place as well. However, given the dearth of these in local schools, the incidents referred to above are perhaps the manifestation of the opportunity for delinquency in adolescents.

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