Over the past couple of months, there has been an upsurge in violent behaviour at several secondary schools across Barbados, the most recent involving a 14-year-old Ellerslie Secondary student. The call for expulsion, according to the president of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, Mary Redman, her union’s decision, is in keeping with the Ministry Of Education Code Of Discipline.
As a trained forensic psychologist, I tend to agree with the views of Attorney General, Ariel Brathwaite that expulsion of the student is not the most favourable decision, and a better process should be put in place to deal with this matter expediously.
In any matter, an individual should be given the right to due process in order to facilitate the wheels of natural justice. This process should be unbiased and impartial at all levels of the investigation. This approach is based on the same premise as when an accused is charged with murder and must be given the right to an attorney and a hearing in court before a sentence is handed down.
Many views suggested the child was displaying behavioural problems over a period of time. If this is true, early intervention should have been a priority to combat future deviant acts. While I do not condone the abuse of any teacher, I believe if teachers observe deviant behaviour in the classroom, they have to act swiftly to prevent the same behaviours from escalating into greater behavioural problems.
At times, a child displays deviant behaviour in the classroom as a result of many other problems at home. While principals are allowed to discipline a child, they need not be so hasty in applying strict disciplinary approaches without examining the precursors to deviant behaviour such as low self-esteem, low self-worth, exposure to sexual abuse, physical abuse and child maltreatment, and early exposure to deviant behaviour.
If they are not in a position to do this, then they should refer the child to other agencies in a timely manner.
Many times children are not valued within the home environment and no one cares enough to offer love, support, attention and affection. If a child is raised in an environment where deviance is the culture, the modus operandi of deviance will emerge in most encounters.
Parents need to build better relationships with teachers in the event that their children misbehave in any manner. One reality of being a parent is to be involved in the child’s life at every level of development. Parents must observe when behaviours change and be quick to address them, because early deviant acts can lead to juvenile delinquency and criminal behaviour.
Schools and universities all over the world employ psychologists because they understand children present with behavioural problems and challenges from time to time. Clearly, there is the need for psychologists to be stationed in our schools throughout Barbados. While guidance counsellors have a role to play, they can become overloaded since they teach part of the curriculum. I do not believe we need social workers in schools because psychologists are better equipped to manage the problems.
(Rennette M. Dimmott is a forensic psychologist and author.)