Minister of Education Tim Gopeesingh announced this week that students will now be scanned at secondary schools around the country. It may be a necessary step, but it’s a humiliatingly defensive one.
It’s clear that the tears of parents who have had children killed and severely beaten on school compounds have had little impact on violence in the nation’s schools. This long promised commitment to metal detectors and full body scanners is still a startling measure.
These, after all, are children. These scanners imply a fundamental distrust in the student population that’s in danger of becoming institutionalised. But what is the ministry to do? In the short-term, it must act to make school violence less lethal, at the very least.
In an interview with the Sunday Guardian in June, Dr Gopeesingh acknowledged the failings of the school system as it exists and promised: “What we have to ensure is that we try to make every school what you call, elite schools. A school that is high in performance, not necessarily academic performance alone, but one that will ensure the holistic development of our children.”
Renaldo Dixon, 14, was stabbed lethally four times at 10:30 in the morning at Waterloo Secondary School in May. The Carapichaima school was not considered high-risk and the Education Ministry considered it a good performing school which had recently won three additional scholarships.
The pervasiveness of school violence and bullying may be lubricated by the presence of weapons, but that isn’t its source, and the Education Minister must be aware of that.
The appointment of 782 student support officers and a refreshed effort at ensuring that there is at least one guidance officer or guidance counsellor at each school is a band-aid on a festering wound, but it’s at least an acknowledgement that there’s a need to put more support systems for students into schools as a first effort at stemming violent behaviour before it runs out of control.
After the Waterloo incident, it was revealed that safety officers were working on month-to-month contracts and the frustration associated with employment uncertainty had reduced their numbers from a high of more than 300 in 2004 to just 120 officers in June 2012. Seven safety officers were stabbed by pupils over the last 12 months.
Even if the Minister succeeds in beefing up security and monitoring in the whole school system, there is still the enormity of re-engineering the school system to address the needs of students who are not being reached academically.
The first point of concern when students act up is usually their home environment and social background, and that’s a real issue that needs monitoring. But students who find little engagement or connection with their secondary school experience are likely to be frustrated and angry in this formative part of their lives.
There’s a need to raise the level of discipline at schools and to enforce the authority of teachers, but it must not be through an totalitarian effort at policing impressionable children. We may need to scan children for weapons now, but what we must also ensure is that every aspect of the school system is addressing the needs of students who desperately need more relevant and focused attention.