To say that the recent reports of the sexual grooming of students of the Bishops High School by a male teacher triggered a level of public response that, at times, came perilously close to a social media feeding frenzy, is not to suggest in the slightest that the disclosure does not warrant a serious and decisive official response. Some of us, whether for the sake of political grandstanding or purely out of a desire to have our voices heard, are often inclined to work up a fierce head of steam over occurrences deemed to be warranting urgent attention then quickly supplant those with some other issue deemed to be of greater urgency. This, over time, has been particularly the case in our education system where the short-term public fuss over issues like violence in schools, reports of in-school sexual trysts involving schoolchildren, the setting of boundaries between teachers and children and teacher frustration over conditions of service has seen no successful remedial response from the Ministry of Education over the years.
Incidentally, part of the problem here is that our education system is sadly lacking in depth in the areas of professional experience and management acumen, a circumstance that continues to retard its ability to fashion and effectively implement initiatives that can adequately respond to the aforementioned challenges and quite a few others.
The sexual grooming accusation has emerged at a time when the issue of physical and sexual abuse of women and young girls, particularly, persists against a distressing backdrop of a lack of success in terms of effective response at just about every level. What persists in the place of meaningful response is a ceaseless and invariably unhelpful chatter, mostly at the level of social media where the quality of the commentary points, all too frequently, to little more than a desire on the part of the commentators to ‘sound their voices’, so to speak.
The sexual grooming accusations made against the Bishops High School teacher is just the sort of scandal-laden episode that sets tongues wagging. Here, the role of the social media as a vehicle for popular discourse on issues of public import raises questions that have to do with the merits of freedom of expression v the importance of responsible comment. One makes this point since the importance of social media in significantly broadening the base of public discourse notwithstanding, it can hardly be denied that such media allow more than ample room as well for reckless, irresponsible and downright dangerous utterances, which find their way into the public domain with worrying ease.
As it happens there has been in recent days a broad range of public comment on the sexual grooming issue, some constructive and helpful and a great deal, that is puerile and inflammatory. Frankly, when one contemplates the likely outcome of the sexual grooming matter it is difficult to ignore the often coarse and tasteless manner in which it has played out in the full public glare and the extent to what has been, to some extent, a trial by fire might possibly prejudice the eventual outcome.
The argument proffered in the print media last week by a Guyana Teachers’ Union official, for example, that it was inappropriate for the revelation to be made on social media and by an advisor to the Ministry of Education, into the bargain, valid as it is, became been entirely subsumed beneath the condemnatory groundswell that targeted the accused teacher. That being said, one might argue that the manner of the disclosure and the source from which it came may well have encouraged those contributors who are usually not unwilling to enjoin the sort of ‘juicy,’ salacious but ultimately unhelpful chatter which such issues afford and which do no more than add a seamy and unhelpful, even counterproductive side to discourse of such import. That is one of the downsides of the way in which social media can be used and is used, so that however outraged we might feel about the sexual grooming revelation the popular tendency is towards social media-driven public trials.
As was said earlier, much of this has to do with what has been, over the years, a generous measure of sloth and ineptitude in important areas of policy-making and a tendency at the political level to wilfully create the impression that strident but empty rhetoric can be an adequate substitute for concrete and meaningful action. Whether the decibel level in the chatter – including the pronouncements of the Ministry of Education – can be equated with urgent actions that will seek to re-examine and perhaps even redefine relationships between teachers and students is difficult to say, though the benefit of precedent leaves many of us in doubt.