Whistling in the wind

There has been no official disclosure from the Ministry of Education beyond the initial report around two weeks ago regarding alleged drug (ecstasy) distribution in two named Georgetown secondary schools, and afterwards, the announcement that these occurrences were being probed by the police and the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU).

It would have been a good thing if, by now, the Ministry of Education, having conducted its own in-school probes, had provided some sort of update on the matter, bearing in mind that the first reports would almost certainly have created a measure of concern amongst parents at the two named schools and at other schools as well. The Ministry’s high officials and its public information personnel ought surely to be aware that failure to keep the public informed on an issue of this nature allows for the creation of an information void that can allow for the matter to drift into the realm of speculative and generously embellished public discourse. That, to some extent has already been happening, the prevailing word on the street being that in the instance of one of the two named schools, children involved in the acquisition and distribution of the drugs have been identified and named and that they and their parents have been engaging the police. Reportedly too, it was arising out of the questioning of the children that an arrest was made.

As has been the case in previous instances of discipline-related incidents in our schools the Ministry of Education appears to have again immersed itself in a ‘deep cover,’ posture that corresponds closely with what has long been an entrenched propensity at various levels of the state system to clam up in times of crisis, seemingly hoping that silence will cause the matter to disappear. Often, it is only after it has been determined that silence doesn’t buy solutions that the unwieldy and difficult exercise of fire-fighting is rolled out.

What, in this instance, will spare the Ministry of Education the full force of public opprobrium is the fact that drug distribution and use in our schools is no longer the big deal that it used to be, our society having long come to terms with the reality that the presence of drugs in schools is part of the collateral damage deriving from a continual erosion of behavioural standards among our young people, not least many of those in the school system.  That being said, the last thing we need is to allow that decline to cause us all to become resigned to the prevailing behavioural standard, so that we come to a place where we  nonchalantly dismiss drugs in schools as a phase that will come and go the way that everything else usually does.

In the instance of drugs the reality is that given the likelihood that elements who run our now entrenched national drug trade have determined that schools represent a soft and lucrative target market, this means that it is more likely than not that it will turn out to be more than a passing phase.

This is where we return to the matter of the Ministry of Education and the execution of its responsibilities in the matter. Drugs aside, we have, over the years, grown accustomed to the customary cluelessness of the Ministry in the face of crises in schools, its lack of a robust response to the upsurge of violence in schools some years ago being a prime example of this.  Indeed, there isn’t a keen observer who would not attest to the familiar leaden-footedness of the Ministry in responding to the umpteen other challenges that it has faced over the years, and up until now there is little persuasive evidence that the functionaries running it at this time are inclined to change course.

This time around, at least up until now, the Ministry has avoided the customary knee jerk polemical pronouncements, dripping with remedial promises that talk a lot but ultimately say sorry little beyond agreeing on the need for some ill-defined course of action. These after-the-fact undertakings to launch remedial “seminars,” “workshops” and “sensitization sessions” as though these are proverbial cure-alls for every conceivable ill have now come to seem as disingenuous ruses designed to play for the time that is needed to allow the issue to drift out of public consciousness. More worrying is the reality that the Ministry appears to lack the requisite tools to respond to the various discipline-related challenges in our school system.

Under normal circumstances our teachers ought to be our first line of oversight in the quest to keep our schools safe. The problem is that these days, good, old-fashioned teacher policing appears to have all but lost its place amidst what has become a none too discreet insurgency against the authority of the Ministry arising largely out of insufficient official attention to teachers’ conditions of service, not least their remuneration. When, as this newspaper did, one asks teachers about what one assumes is a perfectly legitimate monitoring role as part of a wider effort to keep drugs out of schools, they voice their concern over what they say is a risky and thankless task. “Police work,” quipped one of our teacher informants, though it is difficult to dispel the view that efforts to suppress the proliferation of drugs in schools would be far more effective if the Ministry of Education could regain the full commitment of its deeply disaffected teachers to a more significant out-of-classroom role.

And then there is the failure of the Ministry, over time, to secure a complete parent buy-in in so far as managing our schools is concerned.  As our teacher informants have pointed out, the enhanced liquidity of some children from well-off homes is a major likely source of funds with which to finance the drug habit. More than that, some children turn up for school already immersed in a drug culture cultivated in their communities, by their neighbours and in some instances, even in their homes. The obvious implication here is that parents are a critical interest group in the fight against drugs in schools, though one wonders whether the Ministry of Education recognizes this.

Given its resource and skills-related deficiencies, its disaffected teachers, its failure to effectively recruit parents to play their own critical role and what, up until now, has been the propensity of the Ministry to believe that it can simply wait out a crisis, we should not anticipate that the challenge of drugs in our schools will simply vanish in a puff of dust. The solution reposes in the formulation of policies that embody, among other things, a hasty reversal of the aforementioned limitations. Those policies should be underpinned by a mindset that is oriented towards structured and sustained implementation rather than what appears to be the prevailing approach that amounts to little more than whistling in the wind.

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