There has been, for the past few years, justifiable concern at the senseless violence plaguing our society. Alas, too much of the discussion on this issue has focused on the problem, and few persons have bothered to propose workable solutions.
I wish, in this article, to offer my three cents worth of suggestions on what can be done to stem the rising tide of restlessness and lawlessness, particularly among our young people.
1) Effective parenting must be at the core of any effort to tackle the problem.
Too many parents are neglecting their responsibilities of child rearing. The church, the Social Care Ministry, PAREDOS and other similar organizations need to work together to plan programmes for the purpose of educating parents and helping them to cope with parent-child relationships.
As far as the church is concerned, work must not be limited to meetings for congregations, but clergy should use opportunities presented through marriage counselling as well as sessions before and after baptism. Classes in human sexuality in school should place emphasis on parenting so that from early, young people can recognize the awesome responsibility of parenthood.
2) We have to reform the educational system.
I have previously spoken about the urgent need to replace the present system of transfer from primary schools with one which allows children of varying abilities to go to the secondary school that is easily accessible to them. Placement of all of the students who have failed to master basic skills of literacy and numeracy in the less preferred schools leads to dissatisfaction among teachers and disaffection and ultimately deviancy among a growing number of pupils.
Children who feel that they have been abandoned by the system are likely to strike back at that system. For too many students, the only real graduation they know is graduation to the blocks.
3) There is a need for special needs teachers and social workers, starting from as early as the primary level.
The earlier challenges are detected, the more likely they are to be corrected. Currently, we are not doing enough for pupils with special needs such as autism, dyslexia and visual and auditory challenges. Also, we need to understand that as important as Guidance Counsellors are, they cannot take the place of professional Social Workers.
4) Something is fundamentally wrong with the process used for selecting principals and other senior staff.
There are too many weak leaders in our schools, and discipline is the loser. Masters degrees are no indicators of leadership ability. The Ministry of Education needs to find an objective way of spotting leaders, and provide training in management and industrial relations for them.
Middle management needs to be strengthened and persons serving as Senior Teachers and Heads of Departments better remunerated. The Ministry must then allow the principal and his management team to run the school without undue interference.
5) The Ministry of Education should mandate that Religious Knowledge which exposes all students to the teachings of the various religions operating in Barbados should be taught in all schools.
The main purpose of this programme will be to teach the need for a relationship with God, called by whatever name one’s religious persuasion uses, as well as values such as love of self and others, the sanctity of life, respect for the environment and tolerance.
6) The Ministry of Youth Affairs should immediately establish an effective National Youth Service.
All children over 16 and not working or attending a tertiary institution would have to participate.
7) Government should identify priority areas of study for those wishing to pursue university education and provide incentives for students enrolling in these courses.
The present wastage which results from an over-abundance of students studying for degrees which are calculated to see them join the ranks of the unemployed and under-employed cannot be allowed to continue.
8) The authorities need to identify and severely punish those persons (however well connected they are) who are bringing guns and ammunition into Barbados.
Ports of entry must be secured, and where evidence of public servants facilitating the conduit of weapons is found, swift action should be taken. There is too much at stake for us to adopt a laissez faire approach to this matter.
9) The Attorney-General needs to persuade his Cabinet colleagues to institute, without delay, breathalyser testing and periodic stopping and checking of motorists by police, particularly at night.
Barbadians should be prepared to put up with a little inconvenience in exchange for safety. As a country, we must take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that violence and lawlessness do not overwhelm us.
(John Goddard is a retired secondary school teacher and commentator on social issues)