This week’s fresh round of violence involving our children should cause all right thinking Barbadians to hang their heads in shame.
And while some will immediately jump to say ‘not my child’ or point fingers at this school and that school, the fact is, in a small society like ours, no one will escape unscathed if we don’t nip this growing indiscipline and deviance in the bud.
Schools are regarded as safe havens for children to learn and develop. They are not training grounds for indiscipline, lawlessness and criminal activity. Hence why every parent, every teacher, every principal, every pastor, every neighbour must treat to this issue seriously.
Wednesday’s report that a 17-year-old male lost a finger after being chopped with a cutlass by one of his peers following an altercation during lunch break was disturbing to say the least.
And even before the outrage could subside, police reported 24 hours later that four male students – a 15-year-old and three 13-year olds – were charged in connection with the beating of a student from a different school.
All these coming on the heels of a violent attack led by two schoolboys against a public service vehicle operator.
Conflicts are nothing new and are, in fact, natural in the course of human relations.
However, what is worrying is how our children are settling their conflicts and worse, the weapons they are taking to school.
President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union Mary Redman told this media house the situation at the island’s schools was grave.
In an urgent call for the Ministry of Education to intervene before it was too late, Redman yesterday reported immediately following the Ellerslie school cutlass attack that both the teachers and the students were “traumatized because they are not robots and they are distressed when these things happen to children that they care about.
“People think that it is only the child that was on the receiving end that is traumatized, but from my report the entire school was traumatized. Children who witnessed it were deeply psychologically affected because it happened at the canteen,” she stressed.
Incidents like these have no place in our schools.
Firstly, our children should not be in danger; neither should teachers nor other workers at schools.
We support Redman’s call for the issue to be treated as a priority by education authorities, but go even further to call for a radical shakeup of our homes and communities.
The reality is, violence in our schools does not occur in a vacuum. It is a reflection of broken homes and a society losing its foundation.
Children mimic the behaviour they see on television, social media, in their homes, and in their communities.
Therefore, the problem is not a school problem, but a societal problem, which brings us right back to what’s happening in the home.
We can’t stress enough that just as painters paint, farmers tend plants, and teachers teach, parents must parent.
The home is the first school. Too many are raising their children poorly, with little to no discipline, leaving them in the hands of television, social media and misguided adults.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite once floated the idea that some parents should be charged for neglecting their duties and held accountable for the actions of their charges. Perhaps that time has come.
Parents must accept the ultimate responsibility for the behaviour of their wards and provide respectful and responsible role models, while also offering correction when a child’s conduct falls short. They cannot expect teachers to fix mistakes made at home.
Equally, the Ministry of Education also has to take the lead on this issue of school violence.
Admittedly, there is no quick fix or cure-all for this sensitive problem.
But there are issues the Ronald Jones-led ministry has to address.
An update is urgently needed on the work of a proposed broad-based committee which was set up to investigate violence in schools. This would allow the Ministry, teachers’ unions, educators and interests in the school system to get on with the business of making schools safe for all.
It may also be a good time for the Ministry to outline an updated clear policy on safety and security at schools that could include more spot checks and searches, the installation of security cameras and possibly the introduction of metal detectors at schools.
It is equally important that the Ministry gives more thought to increasing the number of guidance counsellors in our schools. Help must be provided to those children who have difficulty settling their conflicts.
Suggestions are only the beginning; we leave the rest to the experts. But how we go forward on this issue can either restore our schools as safe zones of learning or allow them to become the playgrounds of the lawless.