We now know, more or less for sure, that this newspaper’s disclosure about a month ago, of a drugs ring involving two secondary schools in the capital is a microcosm of a wider problem and that, more worryingly, it seems that, as it has done in various other instances of crisis in the system, the Ministry of Education has again assumed a more or less ‘hush- hush’ posture on the matter. It was much the same posture that it had assumed a few years ago on issues like violence in schools and teacher-targeted student aggression, a disposition that bares an unwillingness (or perhaps an inability) to undertake serious probes designed to get to the bottom of these problems and come up with structured solutions.
Used as we have now become to the Ministry’s silence on this most recent issue (and even though we have made an as yet unanswered request to the Chief Education Officer for a statement we would wish to reflect in a forthcoming article in the Guyana Review) we decided, nonetheless to seek out other sources of information, turning in the main to a handful of teachers who agreed to speak with us on condition of anonymity, each of them making clear in different ways, their fear that identity disclosure might lead to unspecified reprisals. As an aside it should be stated that we went to the trouble of seeking out the opinions of quite a few senior secondary school students who, again worryingly, assumed a mostly what’s– all–the–fuss–about posture. What they were in fact saying is that the recent incident was nothing new, hardly surprising and that the circumstance of the disclosure was one of those slip-ups that didn’t usually happen. Put differently, the students were keen to make the point that insofar as this issue of drugs in schools is concerned the level of organization associated with drugs in schools including the links with the mainstream drug-peddling system was way beyond the comprehension of the Ministry of Education. We found that view decidedly sobering.
No one is suggesting in the least that the Ministry will, every time, be on top of every problem that arises in the school system even though in far too many instances of challenge it appears to be the proverbial ‘two steps’ behind, utilising the cover of some ‘ongoing probe’ to conceal what eventually turns out to be its cluelessness on one matter or another.
It has been the same in the present instance of the current Ecstasy incident and one has to wonder again in this instance, whether the wall of silence is not, again, a wall of cluelessness
Mind you, the insistence on a Ministry of Education response to the February revelation that ought correctly to set out remedial strategies does not gainsay the need for the application of some measure of discretion lest ongoing police investigations are compromised. The point is, however, that the public, particularly, parents, the principal stakeholders, have a right to know and the Ministry ought not to deny them that right.
In the absence of some official pronouncement that might bring a greater sense of clarity to the situation we cannot simply allow it to drift, creating a bigger void into which more rumour and misinformation will inevitably slip. That is precisely why our inquiries on the Ecstasy development took us to the teachers. It is not difficult to discern that they understand the situation much better than the bureaucrats in the Ministry do. They are the ‘foot soldiers’; the guardians of the citadel. They stand between the retention of a decidedly weak and vulnerable system and its complete collapse. Teachers, inevitably, are experts on this problem in a manner that the Ministry of Education can never really be. They know where the flaws and the fault lines are, where the shoe pinches, so to speak.
On the other hand, teachers have learnt to be both measured and discreet in their pronouncements. Part of this is the fault of what is perhaps best described as an ‘Ivory Tower’ syndrome, a condition in which they think that their honest opinions count for little with the policy-makers who live in little make-believe worlds of their own. There is also the issue of fear. Too much ‘meddling’ in the drug ‘business’ in schools – particularly given what are believed to be its connection with the wider narcotics mainstream – can be dangerous. The message we got is that the teachers’ preparedness to work as ‘watchdogs’ depends, crucially, on ensuring that repairs to their relationship with the Ministry of Education are done without further delay and that to the extent that it is possible, they are offered a measure of protection.
But that is not the only issue. The proliferation of drugs in some schools and the effects on the school population is not, in our opinion, an issue which the Ministry, from a human resource standpoint, is professionally equipped to deal with. It simply does not have either the range of professional skills within its ranks nor does it have anything even remotely resembling a curriculum designed to effectively implement a response-oriented training regime for its own staff and for its teachers. If there is no preparedness to make a meaningful investment in this direction then the situation is simply not going to change. It will continue to be dealt with from a perspective of the profoundest official uncertainty.
The same is true, of course, in the instance of what has been a failure on the Ministry’s (and the schools’) part to retain an across-the-board Parent-Teacher Association regimen. One of the bigger mistakes made by the Ministry of Education in its handling (or lack thereof) of the drugs- in-schools problem has been its failure to bring parents into the loop. Parents, perhaps to an even greater extent than teachers, can prove to be, in their own particular ways, ‘experts’ on the drug problem and may be even better-positioned to put solutions on the table.
So that while the Ministry of Education might be of the view that its ‘policy’ of silence is, somehow, shielding its ‘shame,’ and its helplessness that posture is, in fact, exposing a retrograde posture that is altogether inconsistent with delivering a more progressive, more forward-looking education system. It amounts to a drift into decadence that can justifiably be interpreted as a microcosm of a broader negative disposition. That will not do.